Photo by Ian MacNicol/Getty Images

PL roundup: Liverpool falter late; Man Utd inch closer to top-four

Leave a comment

A roundup of Monday’s action in the Premier League…

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s PL coverage ]

Sunderland 2-2 LiverpoolFULL RECAP

Jurgen Klopp‘s Reds blew a pair of one-goal leads, each time wiped out by Jermain Defoe penalty kicks, as they opened the door for Chelsea to go eight points clear of their closest title challengers at the end of Matchweek 20. Daniel Sturridge put the visitors ahead after 20 minutes, and Sadio Mane restored the advantage on 72 minutes, but Defoe hit back not long after on both occasions. The draw pulls Sunderland to within a point of 17th-place Crystal Palace and the freedom of relegation that would come with overtaking them.

West Ham United 0-2 Manchester UnitedFULL RECAP

If it weren’t for Chelsea, who have won 13 straight games, the PL’s in-form side would be Man United, who topped West Ham and moved to 11 games without a defeat, including six straight wins of their own. Sofiane Feghouli was dubiously sent off in the 15th minute, making it an uphill fight for the Hammers, but they held on for more than an hour, until Juan Mata (63rd minute) and Zlatan Ibrahimovic (78th minute — 13th PL goal of the season) did their part to move the Red Devils level on points with fifth-place Tottenham and a single point back of fourth-place Arsenal (neither north London side has played their Matchweek 20 fixture).

STRATFORD, ENGLAND - JANUARY 02: Zlatan Ibrahimovic of Manchester United celebrates scoring his team's second goal during the Premier League match between West Ham United and Manchester United at London Stadium on January 2, 2017 in Stratford, England. (Photo by Ian Walton/Getty Images)
(Photo by Ian Walton/Getty Images)

Manchester City 2-1 BurnleyFULL RECAP

Gael Clichy and Sergio Aguero scored two minutes either side of the hour mark, as a 10-man side Man City side moved back ahead of Tottenham and Arsenal for third in the league table. Pep Guardiola opted to rotate half of his attacking quartet, leaving Aguero and David Silva on the bench for the first 45 minutes, but calling on them after the halftime interval. They duly delivered, and City maintain their three-point advantage on the red side of Manchester. Ben Mee grabbed the Clarets’ consolation prize in the 70th minute.

Everton 3-0 SouthamptonFULL RECAP

The last laugh belongs to Ronald Koeman (for now). After losing on his return to St. Mary’s in November, Everton executed the textbook smash-and-grab against Southampton on Tuesday, scoring three times in 16 minutes, all after the 70th minute. Enner Valencia, Leighton Baines and Romelu Lukaku got the goals, and the Toffees remain seventh, leading the middling pack of sides a full nine points back of the top-six.

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - JANUARY 02: Romelu Lukaku of Everton celebrates scoring his team's third goal during the Premier League match between Everton and Southampton at Goodison Park on January 2, 2017 in Liverpool, England. (Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images)
(Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images)

West Bromwich Albion 3-1 Hull CityFULL RECAP

Hull took a 1-0 lead into the halftime interval at the Hawthrons, and proceeded to concede three times in the second half — Chris Brunt, Gareth McAuley and James Morrison did the damage — as Mike Phelan‘s Tigers blew their chance to move level on points with Palace.

Middlesbrough 0-0 Leicester CityFULL RECAP

In theory, Leicester could probably draw their way through the rest of the season and avoid relegation. Now on 21 points after Monday’s scoreless draw at the Riverside Stadium, the defending champions finally have a bit of breathing room (three places and six points) between themselves and the relegation zone. Boro, meanwhile, have just one point from their last three games, and Sunderland lurk just two places and four points back.

Tuesday’s PL schedule

Bournemouth vs. Arsenal — 2:45 p.m. ET
Crystal Palace vs. Swansea City — 3 p.m. ET
Stoke City vs. Watford — 3 p.m. ET

Wednesday’s PL schedule

Tottenham Hotspur vs. Chelsea — 3 p.m. ET

Struggling Atleti in unfamiliar territory under Simeone

Photo by Oscar J. Barroso / AFP7 / Europa Press Sports via Getty Images
Leave a comment

MADRID — This is uncharted territory for many Atletico Madrid fans.

Few other times in recent years have they seen their team struggle so much under Diego Simeone.

[ VIDEO: Haaland has played 59 minutes, scored 5 goals for Dortmund ]

Few other times have they seen their coach fail so often while trying to put the team back on track.

Atletico hit a new low under Simeone on Thursday when it was eliminated by third-division club Cultural Leonesa in the round of 32 of the Copa del Rey. The 2-1 loss in extra time was the team’s worst result in the cup competition since losing to third-tier club Albacete at the same stage in 2011-12.

Two days after that loss in 2011, Atletico hired the then-mostly unknown Simeone to replace Gregorio Manzano, a move that kick-started one of the club’s most successful eras and led to a Spanish league title, two Europa League trophies and two Champions League final appearances.

Atletico did go through difficult moments under Simeone, including when the team failed to advance past the group stage of the Champions League a couple of seasons ago.

“There were always complicated moments in past seasons, maybe after we didn’t make it in the Champions League, or when we lost in the Champions League finals,” Simeone said. “After being at the club for so long, things like this can happen, although they shouldn’t happen.”

There is a greater sense of urgency about the team’s struggles this time.

In addition to Wednesday’s embarrassing Copa del Rey elimination, Atletico lost the Spanish Super Cup final to Real Madrid on Jan. 12, and already is eight points off the Spanish league lead after 20 matches.

[ MORE: Report: Man United’s list of possible new strikers revealed ]

Before, there used to be a notion that Simeone would quickly turn things around and put the team back on track, but this time there aren’t many signs things will improve again soon.

Atletico has yet to impress since undergoing its biggest squad revamp under Simeone at the end of last season, when it lost Antoine Griezmann and other veteran players such as Filipe Luis and Diego Godin. Young Portugal forward Joao Felix, who arrived to replace Griezmann after a transfer from Benfica worth more than 120 million euros ($133 million), has yet to meet expectations.

More concerning, Atletico is not being nearly as effective as it used to be, when it always seemed to find a way to win matches despite not playing well.

The team remains solid defensively — it has the second-best defense in the Spanish league with 14 goals conceded — but it hasn’t been able to do much in attack recently.

“Everything is harder when you can’t score,” Simeone said.

Only seven teams have scored fewer goals than Atletico’s 22 in the 20-team standings.

Diego Costa has been mostly out injured, and Victor “Vitolo” Machin and Alvaro Morata haven’t done much in attack. Morata is the team’s leading scorer with 10 goals in all competitions, and no one else has more than five.

“We have to be humble enough to be self-critical,” Simeone said. “We need to keep working to try to be ready for the challenges that we have ahead of us. We have a very good squad and I’m sure that the results that we want will start arriving soon.”

Atletico biggest chance to rebound will come next month against European champion Liverpool in the last 16 of the Champions League. The first leg will be on Feb. 18 in Spain.

Mourinho in favor of PL’s winter break, but says timing all wrong

Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Jose Mourinho seems to be quite happy that the Premier League will implement its first-ever winter break next month, allowing players a bit of rest and recovery time during a marathon campaign, but says its timing makes the break almost worthless for clubs competing in European competitions.

[ VIDEO: Haaland has played 59 minutes, scored 5 goals for Dortmund ]

The next four weeks will play out as follows for Tottenham Hotspur: FA Cup against Southampton this weekend; PL fixture against Manchester City next weekend; the following weekend off which results in two weeks without a game; PL fixture against Aston Villa the following weekend; Champions League first leg against RB Leipzig three days later.

In Mourinho’s perfect world, that first round of PL fixtures following the break would be held a week earlier, leaving the seven English clubs competing in the Champions League and Europa League with a week and a half between games before setting out once again to chase European glory. Instead, Tottenham, Man City, Liverpool and Chelsea will all have a quick turnaround from PL action to UCL competition — quotes from the Guardian:

“It is what it is. I’m not happy that the break comes in the wrong moment. The break should be before the Champions League and, in the end, before the Champions League we don’t have the break. We have to play Aston Villa on the Sunday, playing [RB Leipzig three] days later. So we don’t really care about the break, honestly.”

Mourinho’s point is a solid one: if the winter break is going to exist — and it should — then why shouldn’t its benefits be maximized? Non-European sides — typically those with smaller squads — would still have the full two weeks between games, while those in Europe are able to better leverage their slightly larger squads with only 10 or 11 days between games — still a lengthy break relative to the rest of the season.

[ MORE: Report: Man United’s list of possible new strikers revealed ]

It’s only the first year of the winter break in the PL, so perhaps hopefully they’ll receive Mourinho’s criticism — and that of any other managers — constructively.

Serie A: AC Milan extends unbeaten run since Zlatan’s arrival

Leave a comment

BRESCIA, Italy (AP) Ante Rebic scored his third goal in two matches, goalkeeper Gianluigi Donnarumma was superb and AC Milan won 1-0 at relegation-threatened Brescia on Friday to climb into the Europa League places in Serie A.

[ MORE: Report: Man United’s list of possible new strikers revealed ]

Rebic, who scored twice in a win over Udinese last weekend, pounced on a loose ball directly in front of the goal following a cross from Zlatan Ibrahimovic in the 71st minute.

Since Ibrahimovic’s return to Milan over the holiday break, Milan is unbeaten with four wins and a draw across all competitions.

Donnarumma produced several difficult saves to deny Dimitri Bisoli and Ernesto Torregrossa.

Also, Milan fullback Theo Hernandez hit the crossbar in the closing minutes.

The Rossoneri moved up to sixth place, four points behind fifth-place Atalanta.

[ MORE: Solskjaer’s transfer update; positive on rebuild ]

“Our goal is to qualify for Europe,” Donnarumma said. “We’ve got to continue like this and not rest for a moment. There’s another big Italian Cup match coming up with Torino midweek and we want to reach the semifinals.

“We’ll take it one game at a time and try to keep this momentum going.”

Brescia was without Mario Balotelli, who was suspended for two matches after protesting a booking last weekend that ended up with the striker being sent off.

Brescia remained one point above last-place Genoa.

FA Cup: Sheffield Wednesday into 5th round; Derby headed for replay

Photo by James Chance/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Sheffield Wednesday became the first club to reach the fifth round of the 2019-20 FA Cup by beating Queens Park Rangers at Loftus Road on Friday.

[ MORE: Report: Man United’s list of possible new strikers revealed ]

The Owls took a 1-0 lead into halftime after Morgan Fox squeezed his shot past the goalkeeper from a tight angle, and Sam Winnall put the EFL Championship side 2-0 up by slotting the ball home just before full-time. QPR pulled a goal back through Nahki Wells just moments later, but it wasn’t enough and the game finished 2-1.

It’s the second time in three seasons that Wednesday has reached the fifth round after doing so just twice in their previous 17 seasons.

[ MORE: Solskjaer’s transfer update; positive on rebuild ]

Elsewhere, fellow Championship side Derby County, featuring Wayne Rooney who played all 90 minutes, couldn’t see off League Two side Northampton Town and will be forced into the dreaded replay after struggling to a scoreless draw away from home.

The draw for the fifth round will be held on Monday at 2:20 p.m. ET, prior to kickoff of Bournemouth v. Arsenal.