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.

Carragher apologizes to Evra over Suarez t-shirts

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Jamie Carragher has apologized to Patrice Evra after Liverpool wore t-shirts in support of Luis Suarez in 2011.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights

The day after Suarez was banned for eight games by the English Football Association, who found him guilty of racially abusing Evra, Liverpool’s players put on t-shirts with Suarez on the front and back during their warm up in a Premier League game against Wigan Athletic.

Carragher and Evra were both analysts for our partners at Sky Sports in the UK on Monday Night Football for the clash between Sheffield United and Arsenal, and discussed the current problems with racism in the game.

“There is no doubt we made a massive mistake; that was obvious,” Carragher said.

Liverpool’s former vice-captain asked Evra how he felt regarding the situation with Suarez, and the former Man United, Juventus and Monaco left back revealed his disgust at the way the situation was handled.

“When I saw it I was like, this is ridiculous. This is unbelievable,” Evra said. You put your own club in danger when you do those things. You always have to support your player because he is from your team but this was after the ban. If it was before and we were waiting for the sanction, I would understand. What message do you send to the world? Supporting someone being banned because he used some racist words.”

Click play on the video above for the full discussion between Carragher and Evra.

Italy women’s team awarded for ’emancipating’ female game

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ROME (AP) The Italy women’s national soccer team was awarded the Foreign Press Association’s Invictus award Monday for promoting and “emancipating” the female game in the country with its run to the World Cup quarterfinals.

[ MORE: Sheffield United beat Arsenal with stellar defensive display (video) ]

Head coach Milena Bertolini and forward Barbara Bonansea were given the award during a ceremony at the Rome-based association.

With soccer dominated by men in Italy and few opportunities for girls, Bertolini recounted how she had to dress up as a boy to play as a kid.

“Now things are changing, thanks to the Italian federation’s school programs,” Bertolini said.

Bertolini and Bonansea lamented that female players are still not considered professionals and therefore are not permitted to earn more than $33,500 per year by Italian law.

“It’s not about the money, it’s a question of rights,” said Bonansea, who also plays for Italian champion Juventus.

[ MORE: Referee officials explain VAR decision on Rashford goal ]

While Italy’s men’s team is a four-time World Cup champion, the women had not played in a World Cup for two decades and entered as a prohibitive underdog during its opening match against Australia in France in June. But the Azzurre came back from a goal down for a 2-1 win courtesy of Bonansea’s two scores , with her second coming in the fifth minute of stoppage time.

“That goal shaped our World Cup, both in terms of results and in terms of promoting women’s soccer in Italy,” Bertolini said. “The strong emotions on the field were transmitted to everyone who was watching. I still get goosebumps now just thinking about that goal.”

The Azzurre went on to win their group then beat China in the first knockout round before losing to eventual finalist the Netherlands.

In a country of 60 million people, a total of more than 20 million spectators watched Italy’s five matches on RAI state TV, setting audience records for women’s soccer game after game.

The Invictus award is dedicated to “promoting the positive effects of sports in terms of integration and emancipation by the vulnerable sections of society.”

UCL preview: Spurs desperate for a win; Man City host Atalanta

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By the end of the week, we’ll be at the halfway point of the UEFA Champions League group stage, and while some Premier League clubs (Manchester City and Liverpool) are currently in rather strong positions, a couple others (Tottenham Hotspur and Chelsea) have some serious work to do to rescue their respective campaigns.

[ MORE: Sheffield United beat Arsenal with stellar defensive display (video) ]

Tottenham’s start to the group stage has gone about as poorly as it could have done, considering the positions in which they’ve found themselves early in games. Going from 2-0 up to a 2-2 draw away to Olympiacos was bad enough, but going from 1-0 up to a 7-2 home defeat to Bayern Munich was the real demoralizer.

Now, last year’s UCL runners-up find themselves third in the group with just one point. However, Mauricio Pochettino‘s side is set for a back-to-back home-and-away with (presumed) doormat Red Star Belgrade, beginning Tuesday when the Serbian side visits the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium.

Spurs will continue to be without goalkeeper Hugo Lloris following his dislocated elbow, while midfielders Christian Eriksen and Giovani Lo Celso are back in full training and expected to be available for selection. Tanguay Ndombele was only involved as a second-half sub during Spurs’ draw with last-place Watford over the weekend, so he is likely to return to the starting lineup.

[ MORE: Referee officials explain VAR decision on Rashford goal ]

Man City, meanwhile, are coming off a 2-0 victory over Crystal Palace and feeling a renewed sense of PL title contention after Liverpool dropped their first points of the season. While a domestic three-peat is undoubtedly high on the list of priorities for Pep Guardiola‘s side, it’s probably safe to assume that breaking though in the UCL is the main objective for 2019-20. Since Guardiola took over at the Etihad Stadium, City have reached the quarterfinals twice and the round of 16 once. Under the direction of Manuel Pellegrini, City reached the semifinals the season before Guardiola’s arrival.

Outside of long-term knees injuries to Aymeric Laporte and Leroy Sane, City have a clean bill of health.

Tuesday’s full UEFA Champions League schedule

Atletico Madrid v. Bayer Leverkusen — 12:55 p.m. ET
Shakhtar Donetsk v. Dinamo Zagreb — 12:55 p.m. ET

Tottenham Hotspur v. Red Star Belgrade — 3 p.m. ET
Manchester City v. Atalanta — 3 p.m. ET
Galatasaray v. Real Madrid — 3 p.m. ET
Juventus v. Lokomotive Moscow — 3 p.m. ET
Brugge v. Paris Saint-Germain — 3 p.m. ET
Olympiacos v. Bayern Munich

The 2 Robbies podcast: Man United 1-1 Liverpool; Struggles in North London

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Robbie Earle and Robbie Mustoe review the key results from Matchweek 9 in the Premier League focusing on Manchester United and Liverpool’s 1-1 draw at Old Trafford (0:50). The chaps also discuss Manchester City’s win at Crystal Palace (16:50), Arsenal’s defeat at Sheffield United (23:25), Tottenham’s draw at home to Watford (35:25) and debate who currently is the 3rd best team in the Premier League (42:05). Finally, the guys name their under-appreciated performances of the weekend (50:50).

To listen to more lively conversations and passionate debate from Robbie Earle and Robbie Mustoe, subscribe to The 2 Robbies Podcast on Apple Podcasts or anywhere you listen to podcasts.

Click here for The 2 Robbies archive ]

Follow them on Twitter @The2Robbies