Premier League Playback: Divine intervention, luck leading the Foxes?

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FOXES GET OUT OF JAIL

“I always believe. I believe we showed this season that everything is possible with the Foxes. Never quit, no?”

That was Claudio Ranieri‘s answer to my question about how he felt on Sunday when Leicester’s title challenge looked to have derailed with West Ham 2-1 up and less then five minutes to play, plus the Foxes down to 10-men.

[ MORE: 3 things we learned ]

When Leonardo Ulloa‘s stoppage time penalty kick hit the back of the net at the King Power Stadium, relief was the main emotion from the home fans. Whether they wanted to admit it or not, the Foxes had got out of jail. Big time.

A scrambling, intoxicating second half saw Jamie Vardy, who had put the Foxes in front, shown a second yellow card for simulation as Leicester went down to 10-men for the final 30 minutes. West Ham then battered them and in two minutes seemed to have won the game.

[ VIDEO: Analyzing the big calls ]

First referee Jon Moss, who became a pivotal figure in this game, called a foul on Wes Morgan in the box and Andy Carroll slammed home the spot kick. 1-1. The home fans were incensed with the decision but can have little complaints. Two minutes later Aaron Cresswell rifled a volley into the far corner and as West Ham’s players celebrated in front of the Leicester fans, with paper clappers being thrown at them and cries of “2-1 to the referee!” from the home fans, everything seemed to be unraveling for Ranieri’s men.

Then, the game-deciding moment arrived.

Substitute Jeffrey Schlupp slalomed into the box with second left. Carroll came across to close him down but Schlupp took a tumble. Moss pointed to the spot to hand Leicester a lifeline and ensure he would safely get out of the King Power Stadium alive. Ulloa’s spot kick ensured Leicester will remain five points ahead of Tottenham Hotspur with four games to go should Spurs win at Stoke City on Monday. But Leicester should have lost and even though Moss was booed off the pitch, he’d helped the home team out and gained them a point.

[ MORE: Vardy to get extra ban?

Moss is a human. He evened things up. He got Vardy’s red card correct — the England striker may face further action after appearing to swear at Moss and gesture in his face when walking off the pitch — and Morgan’s grappling on Winston Reid was correct, but the challenge on Schlupp was nothing more than a shoulder barge and he was already going down.

Leicester have won 11 penalties this season, more than any other team and 15.3 percent of their goals have come from the spot this season. The trickery and speed of Vardy and Riyad Mahrez has led to that but perhaps subconsciously referees are more willing to believe that Leicester’s players are going down under contact and, maybe, the media frenzy about their achievements this season is playing its part.

I wrote it from my “three things we learned” column at the King Power Stadium yesterday, and it does seem like divine intervention is somehow at play here, pushing Leicester towards a fairytale title and unlike anything we’ve ever seen in PL history or even sporting history. Call it luck, the rub of the green, whatever you will, but in pivotal moments in recent weeks decisions have gone in Leicester’s favor and it seems scripted for them to lift the title.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights

Tottenham will not give up hope but seeing Ulloa’s late penalty kick go in must have hit Mauricio Pochettino‘s men hard. Even though Leicester is stumbling, Spurs still have to overcome an eight-point gap with 15 points remaining on the table.

“It is more important than one point,” Ranieri said of Leicester’s draw. “Physiologically, we are there.”

When Cheikhou Kouyate‘s header hits both of Leicester’s post rolls across the line and the stays out with the first act of the game, then a penalty kick like that was awarded with basically the last act, it seems like higher powers are at work.

As Ranieri said: “this season everything is possible with the Foxes.” But it always helps when lady luck is shining down on you along the way…

BRILLIANT DE BRUYNE BATTERS CHELSEA

Premier League Schedule – Week 35

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

Kevin De Bruyne never got the chance to flourish at Stamford Bridge as a Chelsea player. On Saturday he did. But for Manchester City.

[ MORE: De Bruyne rips Chelsea apart ]

During City’s 3-0 win which boosts their top four hopes and condemned Chelsea to an 11th defeat of the season, De Bruyne, 24, looked worth every penny of the $75 million City paid Wolfsburg for the Belgian winger last summer. In January 2014, Chelsea and Jose Mourinho let De Bruyne leave for $25 million.

He came back to haunt them and since he returned from injury last month, City is unbeaten in five and look a completely different team. He knits it all together and comes up with the goods in the big games, just like he did in the UEFA Champions League quarterfinal vs. PSG.

Mourinho had complained of De Bruyne’s attitude, something the Belgian wholeheartedly refutes, and said him being behind Eden Hazard was the main reason he was sold. On his return to Stamford Bridge, it seemed like KDB had a point to prove as he led City’s counter attacks with devastating efficiency and scythed through Chelsea’s hapless midfield and defense at will. Coasting off the right flank and into the center, De Bruyne went clean through in the first half but was thwarted by Thibaut Courtois. He then set up Sergio Aguero to score the first of his three goals with a rapid break and pinpoint pass.

[ MORE: 3 things we learned ]

In the second half it got better. De Bruyne flicked the ball past both Cesc Fabregas and Cesar Azpilcieuta in one movement and sped away, releasing Sami Nasri who set up Aguero for his second.

De Bruyne was applauded by some of Chelsea’s fans and one even shouted out: “De Bruyne, we want you to come back!”

Chelsea’s interim boss Guus Hiddink saw his midtable team humbled by City’s swaggering ginger machine. I asked him after the game what he thought of De Bruyne’s display.

“He is very keen playing in-between the lines and all of the players are and they know to find him,” Hiddink told ProSoccerTalk. “He is a beautiful player to see.”

Chelsea’s fans will, begrudgingly, agree with Guus. Ah, the one that got away…

NORTH EAST CLUBS ALIVE

A huge weekend played out for both Newcastle United and Sunderland as the two North East giants reignited life into their relegation battle. But, adding further fuel to the fire, it seems inevitable that only one club will save themselves.

[ MORE: Latest Premier League standings ] 

Both won 3-0 with Sunderland’s shellacking of Norwich City in the early game on Saturday opening up the relegation picture and Newcastle duly responded with their victory over Swansea City.

Sam Allardyce‘s side have always looked the more likely to get out of the mire as he’s built a solid defensive unit but scoring goals has been the problem of late. A game-changing moment arrived at Carrow Road with Fabio Borini taken down by Andre Wisdom and the Italian slammed home the spot kick to set the Black Cats on their way. Borini crossed for Jermain Defoe to double the lead and Duncan Watmore put some gloss on the scoreline as Big Sam, reminiscent of Elvis, swung his arms in celebration gleefully on the sidelines.

That early win piled the pressure on Sunderland’s bitter North East rivals, Newcastle. And, surprisingly, Rafael Benitez’s side dealt with it. Recording their first clean sheet since Feb. 6, Benitez’s men rode their luck against Swansea City but two late goals brought relief around St James’ Park and Benitez his first win as Newcastle boss.

[ MORE: Full lineups, stats, box score

With Aston Villa relegated on Saturday following their 1-0 defeat to Manchester United, it’s now two from Newcastle, Sunderland and Norwich to join them. The relegation picture couldn’t not be tighter thanks to big wins for the big North East clubs.

Norwich sit one place out of the relegation zone on 31 points. Sunderland have 30 points and Newcastle now have 28. Both, crucially, have a game in hand on Norwich and if they win those, Sunderland will move out of the bottom three and Newcastle will be right behind them.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ]  

They’ve given themselves a big chance of escaping and looking at the remaining games, Sunderland have the easier schedule on paper of the three relegation battlers. With five games to go for Newcastle and Sunderland, the race to 40 points is on. Only one, if any, of the North East giants will be in the PL next season. Which team will dig themselves out of the bottom three?

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.  

Liverpool find another way to win in West Ham comeback

Liverpool v. West Ham recap and video highlights
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Sadio Mane punched in a back-post winner as poor Liverpool found a way to keep its unbeaten Premier League season alive with a 3-2 defeat of West Ham United at Anfield.

The Reds improve their record to 26-1, leading second-place Manchester City by 22 points.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ]

West Ham threw away a 2-1 lead when star goalkeeper Lukasz Fabinaksi fumbled an easy save, and Mane made the most of the disorganized Irons defense late in the match.

The Irons remain a point off safety with 24 points.


Three things we learned

1. Team of destiny Liverpool again wins while miles off its best: Liverpool center back Joe Gomez and to a lesser extent his partner Virgil Van Dijk had poor days, and Jurgen Klopp‘s attackers’ finishing touches were largely absent. Still, the defiant league leaders found their way to three points are now 11 matches from history.

When you can play way off your standard and still out-attempt a Premier League side 25-7, well, you’re pretty good.

2. Fabianski gifts Reds equalizer: Lukasz Fabianski has saved West Ham so, so many times, and he made some nice saves on the day including a wonderful stop on Trent Alexander-Arnold. But his howler of the highest variety on Salah’s tepid low shot is about as bad as it gets for a keeper short of turning and firing into your own goal.

3. Amazing Alexander-Arnold: The right back was again phenomenal an easy Man of the Match in assisting two goals. He would’ve had three if Mane stayed onside in a late lapse of judgment.


If a game had the makings of a 4-4, it was this one; Liverpool has quality players, obviously, but has been prone to lapses. There are fewer of the former and more of the latter for West Ham, but the attackers have high potential.

Liverpool took the leader when Wijnaldum turned a header inside the near post, but Issa Diop answered with a header of his own off a corner kick. The West Ham center back started in the six and darted back in front of Joe Gomez to nod home.

Chances for Sadio Mane after fooling Robert Snodgrass with a dribble and Trent Alexander-Arnold from the right led to near misses.

[ MORE: Premier League stats ] 

Roberto Firmino was sent through by Trent Alexander-Arnold and missed a chance badly to start the second half, and Mohamed Salah soon saw a shot blocked by West Ham.

West Ham was stout at the back and looked prepared on the counter, but Liverpool can only blame itself for the second goal. Fornals hung out between Joe Gomez and Virgil van Dijk, with Fabinho also in the vicinity of Declan Rice‘s cross.

Lukasz Fabianski made a wonderful flying save on an Alexander-Arnold knuckler outside the box, and Liverpool move into the final half-hour up one.

The keeper made a huge error to allow to Liverpool 2-2, a Salah shot squirting through the player’s hands and legs.

Michail Antonio flubbed a 72nd-minute point blank chance.

Liverpool blew chances to make it 3-2 through Van Dijk and Salah as the match reached the final quarter-hour.

Alisson collected a low drive from Sebastian Haller.

Alexander-Arnold set Mane up for a back post finish to put Liverpool ahead, and the same pair saw a fourth goal chalked offside as the Senegalese lazily lost his focus.

Substitute attacker Jarrod Bowen was saved by Alisson when Antonio played him through in the 88th minute.

West Ham had a few more big chances, Noble seeing a rip deflect wide for a final corner. It was cleared by Andy Robertson.

Smalling considering full-time Roma switch: “Long may it continue”

Chris Smalling
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Manchester United loanee Chris Smalling is talking up life in Rome amidst a possible Serie A Team of the Season campaign.

Smalling had a disappointing 2018/19 season at Old Trafford, so it’s not a surprise that Solskjaer thought he could do better than the 30-year-old.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ]

Instead, Smalling’s numbers are close to that of record-signing Harry Maguire in a Serie A league with slightly more scoring. Smalling ranks in Italy’s top ten for interceptions (2.2), clearances (4.5) and blocks (1.2).

Roma boss Paulo Fonseca wants the player to stay, as i Lupi are fifth in Serie A and Smalling when has played nearly every minute when healthy. Smalling told our friends Sky Sports that he has “an interesting decision to make.”

“Some of the other players said if you really hit the ground running, the love that you can have in this city is unbelievable. That’s really what I’ve felt and so have my family. Long may it continue.”

His age makes it tricky, but the advanced stats show that Smalling has been a very effective Premier League center back for four of his last six seasons.

Smalling may want to leave if Solskjaer isn’t prepared to hand him regular football, which would be a given in Rome. Now what’s the price tag?

According to WhoScored’s player comparison tool:

Chris Smalling
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Watch Live: Liverpool v. West Ham

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Liverpool v West Ham takes center stage at Anfield on Monday (Watch live, 3 p.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com) as the Reds aim to reclaim their 22-point lead at the top of the Premier League table.

WATCH LIVE ONLINE

Jurgen Klopp‘s side remain unbeaten this season and with five more wins needed to guarantee the Premier League title, the finishing line is in sight. They are aiming for an 18th consecutive Premier League win which would equal Man City’s record for the most victories on the trot in top-flight history.

As for David Moyes and the Hammers, they are scrapping for their lives at the other end of the table and their daunting run of fixtures makes them one of the favorites for relegation.

Last season the Hammers did draw at home against Liverpool in the PL which was a key factor in the Reds not winning the title last time out but West Ham look extremely far from the team they were last season.

Liverpool v West Ham is first against 18th and all signs point to a big win for the home side as their unbeaten season continues with 25 victories from 26 games so far.

In team news Liverpool are without captain Jordan Henderson who has suffered a hamstring injury and will be out for the next three weeks.

Naby Keita comes in for Henderson in midfield as the rest of the Liverpool team is what you expect.

West Ham are without the injured Ryan Fredericks who suffered a shoulder injury in the 2-0 defeat at Man City on Wednesday.

Teenager Jeremy Ngakia comes in to replace Fredericks, while Felipe Anderson also comes into the lineup.

LINEUPS

 

Kids under 12 banned from heading in UK

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LONDON (AP) Children up to the age of 12 will be banned from heading a soccer ball in practice sessions in England, Northern Ireland and Scotland as authorities look to address the potential long-term impact on health of head injuries.

[ MORE: US Soccer bans heading ]

The governing bodies of the three regions announced the new heading guidelines on Monday, months after a Scottish study found former professional players there were less likely to die of common causes such as heart disease and cancer compared with the general population but more likely to die with dementia.

The guidelines say there will be a “graduated approach” to heading in practice for kids from 12-15, while the heading will be restricted to one practice session per week for kids 16 and 17.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule

There will be no change in terms of heading in matches, taking into consideration the extremely limited number of headers which actually occur in youth matches.

The Scottish study did not state that heading a ball was the cause of the increased prevalence of neurodegenerative conditions among soccer players, but the decision to update the guidelines was taken to “mitigate against any potential risks”, the English Football Association said in a statement.

“This guidance is a responsible development to our grassroots coaching,” FA chief executive Mark Bullingham said, “without impacting the enjoyment that children of all ages take from playing the game.”

The associations said the guidance had been produced in parallel with the UEFA medical committee, which is seeking to produce Europe-wide guidance later this year.

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