PL Playback: Analyzing the big calls as Chelsea surge clear

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REF WATCH: BIG CALLS INCORRECT

It seems a little early to say this but I’m going to go ahead and say it anyway: this is Chelsea’s Premier League title to lose.

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Ahead of Week 22 Chelsea they could’ve seen their lead at the top cut to three points. Now it has been extended to eight as Antonio Conte and his players sat back and watched title contenders stutter on Saturday and they finished off Hull ruthlessly on Sunday for their 15th win in their last 16 games.

[ MORE: Latest odds for PL title winners ]

It is a case of advantage Chelsea in the title race, but plenty of their title rivals (if we can even call them that anymore) can feel aggrieved to have seen key calls go against them this weeekend.

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The referees were at the heart of several key moments of games involving title contenders and sadly they got many of the big calls wrong.

Let’s focus on the three biggest mistakes, all of which involved penalty calls, that will likely have big ramifications in the title race…

  • (A) No penalty kick awarded to Man City vs. Tottenham with City leading 2-1
  • (B) Penalty kick awarded to Arsenal vs. Burnley in 98th minute, as they won 2-1
  • (C) No penalty kick awarded to Hull City when trailing Chelsea 1-0

(A)  – There is no doubt that this was the worst of the bunch. See the video below as Raheem Sterling raced through and looked destined to put Man City 3-1 up and out of sight to get them back in the title race and close the gap on Spurs. Sterling was punished for staying on his feet. He was too honest and as he fell he took a shot which Hugo Lloris saved easily. Walker should have been sent off and City should have had a penalty but referee Andre Marriner waved played on. Man City should be 10 points behind Chelsea in the title race but now they’re 12 points back. Their title chances were slim before this weekend. After this decision, they’re gone.

(B) – This 98th minute decision was wrong on two different levels. One: Laurent Koscielny was offside when the cross came in. Two: Although Ben Mee is trying to hook the ball away with a high foot, Koscielny is stooping his head down. You have to let calls like that go in the box. Referee Jon Moss had earlier correctly given Granit Xhaka a straight red card for a lunging tackle on Steven Defour and then given Burnley a penalty kick in the 92nd minute after Francis Coquelin fouled Ashley Barnes. The latter decision incensed Arsene Wenger so much he was sent to the stands and now has to deal with an FA misconduct charge as he appeared to push fourth official Anthony Taylor on his way down the tunnel. Back to Moss. He got his third big decision of the game wrong and maybe after Xhaka’s sending off, awarding a penalty to Burnley, calling away a penalty shout for Arsenal earlier when Shkodran Mustafi went down and then seeing Wenger’s angry reaction he tried to even things up in front of the home fans who were baying for blood. There’s no doubting Mee’s foot was high, but that’s not a penalty for me and Moss should’ve been helped out by his linesman who had a better view. After all of that, Arsenal will feel they’re back in the title race as they prepare for a trip across London to face Chelsea on Feb. 4 at Stamford Bridge.

(C) – Another pivotal call among the title contenders went in Chelsea’s favor. Leading Hull 1-0, they should have given away a penalty kick just after half time. Marcos Alonso clipped Abel Hernandez in the box and it was a blatant PK for Hull. Nothing was given and you could clearly see the relief on Alonso’s face. Chelsea knew they had got away with one and if Hull had equalized early in the second half, who knows what would have happened? Those are the kind of breaks you get when you’re at the top and more often than not in recent weeks those kind of breaks are going Chelsea’s way and against their title rivals. Advantage Chelsea indeed.


LEICESTER IN BIG TROUBLE

From the title contenders, we now switch our attention to the title holders.

Leicester City are five points above the relegation zone and having a torrid time defending their crown, as they have the lowest points tally of any defending top-flight champ ever after 22 games and they are without an away win in the Premier League.

Claudio Ranieri must be applauded for his honesty in taking the blame for Leicester’s humbling 3-0 defeat at Southampton on Sunday but his self-pity doesn’t cover up the glaring fact that the reigning champions are increasingly in a battle against the drop.

Why?

Well, there are a number of reasons.

“Slacking off over the summer after winning the PL title in incredible fashion?” Perhaps.

“Losing N'Golo Kante to Chelsea?” Yep, definitely a big part of it.

“Other teams focusing on their strengths?” That’s key too.

Yet, when we look at this Leicester, despite Ranieri playing three at the back against Chelsea last time out and then a diamond in midfield in the first half at Southampton, both of which went horribly wrong, not much has changed. That’s the biggest problem. Don’t get me wrong, I was fully on board the Leicester bandwagon along with the rest of the sporting world last season. It was incredible.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ]  

However, was Ranieri really ruthless enough over the summer to strengthen the team where they needed to? No. In theory, Leicester needed three new signings throughout the spine of the team.

They could offer big wages and UEFA Champions League action and they should’ve plundered their cash on three big name players at center back, in central midfield and up top. They bought in Luiz Hernandez in defense, who could be on his way out already. They also signed Nampalys Mendy who has been injured but is no Kante and they brought in Islam Slimani who has been hot and cold. The biggest issue (as the stat above suggests) is in defense. Leicester are leaking goals at an alarming rate and Wes Morgan and Robert Huth seemed to have aged 10 years over the summer.

There’s an argument to be made that they should have gone for PL experience and paid a little over the odds to buy two or three experienced players from within the PL rather than seven or eight newbies to the PL.

Leicester have done the latter and so far that plan isn’t working.

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Their run to the UEFA Champions League Round of 16 has been the priority and some would say rightly so but with Swansea and Hull picking up below Leicester, the Foxes’ margin for error is getting smaller each week.

They had the lowest pass completion percentage over the weekend which is much like last season. Pretty much everything is the same, expect for the results. That’s the most worrying thing for Leicester’s fans, players and manager.


ROONEY SETS RECORD IN STYLE

It just had to be this way.

Wayne Rooney became Manchester United’s all-time leading goal scorer on Saturday — passing Sir Bobby Charlton who had held the record on 249 for over 40 years — as he curled home a sublime free kick in stoppage time to grab his side a point at Stoke City and extend their unbeaten run to 17 games in all competitions.

[ MORE: World reacts to Rooney’s record

Rooney, 31, scored his 250th goal for United in fine fashion and it was indicative of a career which has promised so much and more often than not delivered with spectacular goals such as the bicycle kick against Manchester City, the volley against Newcastle and the halfway-line lob against West Ham littering the way.

When we look back on his career in a decade or two, it’s likely he will finally get the credit he deserves for his sublime talent on the field since the age of 17 when he burst onto the scene. Right here, right now, Rooney is often undermined with his fitness and impact questioned on a daily basis.

Wayne Rooney is now the all-time leading scorer for England and Manchester United. Let that sink in. He is truly a legend of the game.

[ MORE: Rooney talks about his future at United ]

Speaking at the Football Writers’Association tribute dinner on Sunday at the Savoy Hotel in London (Rooney’s impeccable timing meant he set the record just 24 hours before being honored by the FWA) Rooney admitted that going forward he wants the media and England’s players to work closer together to benefit everyone.

“The media is a massive part of football and I’ve seen firsthand since I’ve become captain of Manchester United and England,” Rooney said. “I’ve recognized it has had a huge influence on the game and the players and especially the young English players because they are the ones who have to go out and perform. It’s tough. I also feel like it is sometimes a bit unfair.

“The one thing I think, for me, that should happen is we need to realize and the media need to realize that at this moment in time there is a huge gap between the media and the players. I think the quicker the media and players can come together and meet in the middle, then the better it is for English football.”

Here’s a look at some of Rooney’s best goals from his incredible career which he intends to keep going at Manchester United for now but also admitted his frustration at not playing regularly this season.

Whatever the future holds, Rooney has written himself into folklore forever.


GET WELL SOON, RYAN

Week 22 of the Premier League ended with a sobering sight.

Hull midfielder Ryan Mason, 25, was involved in an aerial collision with Chelsea skipper Gary Cahill in the first half of the Blues’ eventual 2-0 win. Mason did not get back up.

The England international suffered a fractured skull and after carefully being treated on the pitch he was transported to St Mary’s hospital in central London for surgery.

Hull gave the latest update on Mason on Monday, as players and staff from both Chelsea and Hull visited him in hospital.

The Club can confirm that Ryan has been visited this morning at St Mary’s Hospital by Club Captain Michael Dawson, Club Doctor Mark Waller, Head of Medical Rob Price and Club Secretary Matt Wild. Ryan has been speaking of the incident yesterday and will continue to be monitored at the hospital over the coming days where the Club will remain in close contact with Ryan, his family and the staff at St Mary’s.

Ryan and his family have also been extremely touched by the overwhelming support they have received  and would very much like to thank all of those who have posted such positive comments both on social media and in the press over the last 24 hours.

It was a horrible sight and was made even more shocking due to the innocuous nature of the challenge.

Get well soon, Ryan.


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.

Tigres scores goals around Veracruz side protesting unpaid wages

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Incredible scenes in Mexico, where CD Veracruz allowed Tigres to score in comical fashion while protesting unpaid wages.

The home crowd at Estadio Luis Pirata Fuente saw their side take the kickoff and play the ball back to the goalkeeper as the substitutes walked to the touch-line to stand in solidarity with their teammates on the pitch.

[ MORE: Interview with Claudio Reyna ]

After a little over a minute, goalkeeper Sebastian Jurado sent the ball into the Tigres half, where the visitors offered a very odd vision, dribbling and passing down the pitch to loft a ball into the unguarded goal. Tigres would score another after barely more than three minutes of play, and had a 3-0 lead after eight minutes through a goal by Andre-Pierre Gignac and an Eduardo Vargas brace.

According to the TV broadcast in Mexico, relayed by Tom Marshall of ESPN, Veracruz is upset that Tigres shot on goal during the 3-minute protest, the planned length of which they believed was communicated to the visitors.

Not a great look for Tigres.

And so the match got chippy, with Jesus Duenas of Tigres sent off in the 26th. Will Veracruz somehow fight back for a point?

Veracruz is last place in the Apertura season, while third place Tigres has buttressed its goal differential. Unreal.

2-0 didn’t feature anything too much more active from Veracruz.

Mbappe returns, scores as PSG beats 9-man Nice 4-1

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NICE, France (AP) Angel Di Maria scored twice and Kylian Mbappe marked his return from injury with a goal as Paris Saint-Germain stretched its lead in the French league with a 4-1 win at nine-man Nice on Friday.

Di Maria got the visitors off to a flying start in the first half before Mbappe sealed the win in the 83rd minute after the home side had two players sent off. Mbappe also set up Mauro Icardi for PSG’s fourth goal in injury time.

[ MORE: Interview with Claudio Reyna ]

Mbappe, who recently missed a month with a thigh injury, hadn’t played since suffering a reaction to his original injury in Champions League win over Galatasaray on Oct. 1.

The win lifts PSG five points clear of Nantes ahead of the rest of the 10th round of matches.

Di Maria opened the scoring in the 15th minute after being sent through all alone from the halfway line by Icardi as Nice’s defenders all pushed up. The Argentine stayed cool with only goalkeeper Walter Benitez to beat and picked his spot inside the far corner.

Di Maria’s second goal six minutes later was even better as he lifted the ball over Benitez with his first touch from a difficult angle.

Marquinhos replaced Brazilian compatriot Thiago Silva for the second half and struck the crossbar with a header from a corner.

A Marquinhos mistake – made while attempting a backpass to Presnel Kimpembe – allowed Ignatius Ganago to pull one back for Nice in the 67th.

But the home side’s hope of an equalizer were hit in the 74th when Wylan Cyprien was sent off with a second yellow card after he criticized the referee for not awarding a foul against him.

Christophe Herelle followed Cyprien off minutes later with a straight red after the video referee picked up a slap he gave Leandro Paredes, who fell theatrically to the ground.

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

MLS Cup Playoff Predictions

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There will be upsets.

While Major League Soccer’s playoffs certainly should provide plenty of love for home teams in the one leg format, it will also give underdogs the chance to outfox better seeds over 90 minutes.

[ MORE: Reyna talks NYCFC, youth soccer in U.S. ]

Considering that 92 of 408 MLS matches ended in ties this season, we may also see a few matches hit penalty kicks.

Here’s where we see the 2019 MLS Cup Playoffs going…

Round 1

East
(5) DC United defeats (4) Toronto FC
(3) Philadelphia Union defeats (6) New York Red Bulls
(2) Atlanta United defeats (7) New England)

West
(5) LA Galaxy defeats (4) Minnesota United
(6) Portland Timbers defeat (3) Real Salt Lake
(2) Seattle Sounders defeat (7) FC Dallas

Why the upsets? DC’s defense has been very good this season, and there’s something about Wayne Rooney‘s MLS exit that doesn’t seem immediate. Zlatan Ibrahimovic is a big game player and Minnesota’s experiencing the playoffs for the first time. Portland is missing Brian Fernandez but has enough savvy and experience to outlast a decent (and very strong at home) RSL.

Conference Semifinals

East
(5) DC United defeats (1) New York City FC
(2) Atlanta United defeats (3) Philadelphia Union

West
(1) LAFC defeats (5) LA Galaxy
(2) Seattle Sounders defeat (6) Portland Timbers

Why the upset? If there’s one team equipped to deal with the NYCFC possession-based attack on a baseball field, it’s DC. The back line and Bill Hamid do enough to stun a No. 1 seed which will not have played in nearly a month.

Conference Finals

East
(2) Atlanta United defeats (5) DC United

West
(1) LAFC defeats (2) Seattle Sounders

MLS Cup Final

(2) Atlanta United defeats (1) LAFC

Why the upset? Just to be different, and so all the people who laid Atlanta’s early struggles at the feet of Frank De Boer and not adapting to the post-Miguel Almiron era can sigh, “Ohhhhh.”

NYCFC’s Reyna on building “inspirational pathway” for youth

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When it comes to American soccer, there are few fonts of wisdom as well-earned as Claudio Reyna.

Before he was New York City FC’s sporting director, the New Jersey-born midfielder did just about everything possible for a player of his era en route to becoming a USMNT centurion (112 caps, to be exact).

[ PL PREVIEW: Man Utd v. Liverpool ]

Reyna played for Bruce Arena at the University of Virginia, where he won the Hermann Trophy as the best player in college soccer. He left for Europe following the 1994 World Cup, embarking on a 14-year career in Germany (Bayer Leverkusen and Wolfsburg), Scotland (Rangers), England (Sunderland and Manchester City), and the U.S. (New York Red Bulls).

Now closer to home with NYCFC, where he’s helped build the East’s No. 1 seed in these MLS Cup Playoffs, Reyna is constructing a giant of American soccer. We spoke with Reyna about the status of youth soccer, scouting the globe, his NYCFC heading into the playoffs, and a United States U-17 World Cup roster which includes his son Giovanni (Borussia Dortmund) as well as several NYCFC players.

NYCFC has also used its resources to build 50 public soccer pitches around the metropolitan area. The club is on track to have 30 finished by the end of this calendar year, which is where we started a wonderful conversation with the living USMNT legend.

ProSoccerTalk: Considering the many facets involved with a project like this, bureaucracy, red tape, community challenges, how heavy of a lift was this and how rewarding is it to see it moving toward completion?

(Photo by Anthony J. Causi)

Claudio Reyna: “It certainly is a heavy lift but it’s not just NYCFC. It was a partnership with adidas, Etihad, the Mayor’s Fund, and U.S. Soccer Foundation. They certainly helped in getting this off the ground, on time and on budget. We still have more until we complete the 50. We wouldn’t be able to do it without the team effort but it was a lot of heavy lifting and coordinating of people’s schedules. It’s very rewarding and satisfying when you see the pitches bringing communities together and having kids playing unstructured, fun soccer, all kinds of ages coming together. To have that space and creativity to have fun and play soccer.”

PST: How important is it that young players are competing in free-flowing games, trying new things, and techniques? And how can you help maximize their use?

Reyna: “Within the community they know the pitches are there, and word will continue to spread. But it’s important to leave a legacy and give something that really does so much to a community. It’s not about developing soccer players — it certainly helps the sport grow and get visibility — but in urban areas there is limited park space and just in general it’s difficult to get out and play and exercise. It’s attractive, these blue pitches. It’s all these players, their stadium.

It’s a magical place for them to go and they’ll never forget that. It’s that spark for kids. It brings people together like it does at all levels.

“That’s what we’re most proud of, all the partners are. You continue to change lives, and we’re certain that’s going to happen. It’s one of the best projects that we’ve had, and it’s something you can see with your eyes the impact that it’s making.”

PST: Looking at soccer here on the whole, there have been magnificent strides in the past 10-15 years. What’s your status report of the youth game here in our country at this point?

Reyna: It’s good but we’re not anywhere near the best leagues and soccer nations in the world. In terms of investment and facilities, level of coaching, and level of players coming through the academies is much better than in years past, but every club is at a different place and different environment. You have to understand your market and your areas.

“We are fortunate that we have a rich talent pool of players, but we have to take them in and teach them about life first, that’s a big thing for us in character traits, make sure they are respectful to the team and wearing the jerseys. At our academy we’re focused on pushing players and when it gets too easy, we move them up. When we feel a player is ready for the first team, we push them up.

“Despite winning the last two U-19 national championships, we’re always focused on the long-term development of players. We won last year with very young teams, so that speaks to what we believe in. We have four Homegrown Players, and there will be more in the future. There’s that inspirational pathway, a really good pipeline where they see the first team.

My path was a bit unclear for me. I didn’t dream of playing professional soccer at 10, 11 because there’s no league. But now a kid goes to our stadium, to our academy, he sees a local kid make it, and knows he can be the next one.”

PST: What are the biggest challenges for your academy in bringing in young players for the first time?

Reyna: “We have many players that come with a very good background, and we’ve made a lot of efforts in partnering with local clubs. We start bringing the players in at 10, 11 years old. Before that they have a different development and understanding.

“We have to bring down some habits because the kids who come to us are the best players on their other teams and they get away with more than they will when they come to another level. We focus on breaking habits. We believe in a collective game where everyone needs to play and be comfortable on the ball.

“The first year we may have to shift players around because what you find is when the best players come to us, most were center forwards, center midfielders, central defenders. You have to say, okay, this player’s good but his long-term potential is a right back.

“The perfect example is Joe Scally on the U-17 World Cup team. He came to us from a club in Long Island as an athletic box-to-box midfielder. He was very strong, but we saw him as an outside back. The lesson that we now we share that with our players, don’t get upset if you move to a position, but Joe Scally understood, never complained, he played wherever he was told to do, and now he’s a right back now, 16 years old going to the World Cup after being in our academy for two and a half years.

“Players who buy in like that, and Joe, Justin Haak, and James (Sands), they tend to have more success. In New York we continue to work with local clubs like NYSC and Met Oval and a lot of smaller clubs around the NY area have helped us produce players who come with a good foundation and good base.”

PST: I wanted to ask you about the U-17 World Cup. Obviously your son being on the team has to make it an incredibly emotional thing, but to have have three academy players in the fold, too, man… that must be a sensational feeling.

Giovanni Reyna with Borussia Dortmund first team head coach Lucien Favre(Photo by TF-Images/Getty Images)

Reyna: And a coach, too (NYCFC academy coach Matt Pilkington is an assistant on the squad). It’s very special. My son, obviously, it’s a very proud moment for him to be able to compete in a World Cup. But for me, I’ve known these kids since they were 10 years old. When I see them run out, it’s kinda like “Whoa,” I remember them hanging out at 11, 12, 13. It’s really great to see.

“Then again it’s a credit to what we do here. We prepare players for the next level. That’s what an academy is. You’re not there to win academy games. You’re there to prepare them for the next level. These guys are mature. They are winners. They have a winning mentality that has translated to this team. I’m definitely get down, and go back and forth because of the playoffs, it’s super exciting for me. Very emotional as well. I love them like they’re my own kids.

PST: And one of them is.

Reyna: (laughs) One of them is.

PST: I wanted to ask you about the first team. I’m thinking of Alexandru Mitrita of Romania (who came from Universitatea Craiova) and Ismael Tajouri-Shradi of Libya (Austria Wien), and how you’ve found players from everywhere. Obviously there are thousands of hours of video on massive leagues, but how do you judge whether players from “smaller” places can get the job done for NYCFC in MLS?

Reyna: “I believe there are players everywhere in this world. Anyone who doesn’t understand this, they’re behind. The first thing is, really, how bad do they want to come here. Why do you want to come here? The players we’re recruiting, why New York? Why MLS? Why now in your career? You get a straight answer and a feeling, because from then on you can always go back to that.

“I’m very open about how we work and how we play and the expectation of a very high standard of professionalism. Ultimately for them, it’s important to say if you do really well, there’s another step for you. Like Jack Harrison. You’ve gotta be honest about the league, the competition, the travel, different conditions and climate. You’ve gotta give them the picture. Prior to that you see the player play. It’s the eyes, ears, and then the data after that.

“The data is there to support the decision, not drive the decision. These are human beings with emotions. Alexandru is the perfect example. At the beginning of the year he was alone waiting for his fiancee — now his wife — to come, and I knew besides other things and adaptation, that’s why he wasn’t yet where he was going to be (on the field). Not everyone sees that, the fans don’t see that. Then you see him with his wife, and his family, and he’s got a big smile on his face, and data’s not picking that up.

“You have to look at all these things, so we make a big effort to make sure we help them settle in. A player who feels welcome, will give 100 percent back. If a player doesn’t work out, I look at ourselves first. Too often, clubs and coaches and supporters blame the player. It’s my responsibility to say what could we have done better. They are human beings first. I will never turn my back on a certain league. There’s a very good generation coming through, look at the U-21s this summer. Our squad, the players fight, they wanna be here, and now the players are playing as hard as they can for the jersey.”

PST: You look at NYCFC’s place in the stats this season, and it follows suit with what you’re saying that the club is at or near the top of the league in a lot of the desire stats.

Reyna: “The coaching staff deserves a lot of credit. Stats are important. I asked a colleague to compare them to years past, and it gives you so much information. The difference between when I played and players today is they like this, they want to see it, and we didn’t have it growing up. It’s another way to learn. They want to see how goals are scored, how they are given up, whether they are in transition or whatever. Set pieces for us was something we wanted to see how we could get better. The stats gave us a clearer picture of what we’re doing well. After every game we get a review of what we did, and I look at everything because a stat can show you something you might not have seen with your eyes during the game.”