Premier League Playback: Who has edge in top four race?

Leave a comment

There is a special scenario playing out in the Premier League this season, hence why this edition of Premier League Playback is focusing solely on the crazy top four race.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

With Chelsea eight points clear at the top, it seems like this season will become all about the race for second place. And third place. And fourth place. Just two points separates Spurs in second place and Manchester United in sixth after the weekend games in Week 25.

[ MORE: Latest Premier League standings

With six giants of English soccer scrambling for the top four with their big-name managers, there is so little to divide these behemoth clubs.

Yet, let’s have a go shall we? Might as well…

[ MORE: Premier League schedule

Below is a look at how many points each of the five contenders for the three remaining UEFA Champions League spots (let’s be very realistic a little wild and assume Chelsea wins the PL…) will get, thus predicting who will finish in the top four.

My word, it’s going to be tight.


MANCHESTER CITY

Why they’ll finish in the top four: Pep Guardiola‘s side have to play four of the top six in the final 13 games of the season, leaving them with a very tough schedule. A spell at the end of March and start of April will decide their season with a triple header of Liverpool, Arsenal and Chelsea, plus potential Champions League and FA Cup games. Given the fact they’ll likely go deep in the UCL and the FA Cup, that will mean plenty of rotation in the squad. With Sergio Aguero, Vincent Kompany and Kelechi Iheanacho in reserve right now, that should be fine. You get the sense the penny has dropped for Pep’s players in recent weeks. Expect them to go on a run and finish his opening season as a coach in the PL strongly. Chelsea will beat them to the title, for this season at least, but finishing second (especially after their poor start) would be a good achievement. 
Toughest games remaining
: vs. Manchester United (TBA), vs. Liverpool (Mar. 19), at Arsenal (Apr. 1), at Chelsea (Apr. 5)
Predicted final points total: 82 points (2nd place finish)


TOTTENHAM HOTSPUR

Why they’ll finish in the top four: Following their early UCL exit, Spurs’ players will be determined to put things right in Europe next season. Given their remaining schedule, plus it being their last season at the old White Hart Lane, motivation levels will be high. You’d like to think there won’t be a late season collapse a la 2015-16 and Mauricio Pochettino and his players will have learned from that. Harry Kane and Dele Alli have to turn up in the big games as Spurs only have one win this season against the current top six. Luckily they only have two games against the current top six in their remaining 13 fixtures. That’s the main reason they’ll seal a top four finish. 
Toughest games remaining
: vs. Arsenal (Apr. 29), vs. Manchester United (May 13)
Predicted final points total: 78 points (3rd place finish)


LIVERPOOL

Why they’ll finish in the top four: With no European or cup action to worry about, Klopp’s men have 13 cup finals to get themselves into the top four. Like Chelsea, that’s a massive bonus. With Sadio Mane back, plus injuries at a minimum, Liverpool has a great chance to finish in the top four. Like Spurs, they could easily go unbeaten in their final 13 games of the season and delivering a UCL spot was always the target this season. Looks like Liverpool will do it. Just about. It all depends on limiting those sloppy defensive mistakes and the only other issue is the fact that they play a couple of relegation contenders who will be scrapping for their lives in the final weeks of the season. That always throws up some bizarre results. 
Toughest games remaining
: vs. Arsenal (Mar. 4), at Manchester City (Mar. 19)
Predicted final points total: 77 points (4th place finish)


MANCHESTER UNITED

Why they’ll finish in the top four: All of those draws look like they will cost surging United dear. Jose Mourinho’s men have only lost three games this season and none of their last 16 in the PL in a fine unbeaten run. But with Man City, Chelsea, Arsenal and Spurs to play in the final six weeks of the season, they’ll likely drop plenty more points. With Chelsea, Arsenal and Spurs to come in their last six games of the season, Mourinho’s men have to rack up the points now and then hope they can power over the line. Having a taxing Europa League campaign, plus FA Cup involvement, will make that tough. You get a horrible sense that they may have left this surge in the second half of the season just a little too late. 
Toughest games remaining
: at Manchester City (TBA), vs. Chelsea (Apr. 15), at Arsenal (May 6), at Tottenham (May 13)
Predicted final points total: 77 points (5th place finish, on goal difference)


ARSENAL

Why they’ll finish in the top four: Because it’s Arsenal. Duh. Seriously, they have a better defense than last season and despite the “Wenger Out” brigade once again warming up their vocal chords, things aren’t that bad. The only thing which could derail their top four chase is if one, or all three, of Wenger, Alexis Sanchez, Mesut Ozil decide to make an announcement about a future move away from the Emirates before the end of the season. That, plus actually getting past the UCL Round of 16, would throw a major spanner in the works. It will be a close call for the Gunners because they arguably have the hardest remaining schedule of any top four contender. Looks like they may just miss out when you consider the fixtures below…
Toughest games remaining: at Liverpool (Mar. 4), vs. Manchester City (Apr. 1), at Tottenham (Apr. 29), vs. Manchester United (May 6)
Predicted final points total: 74 points (6th place finish)


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.

USWNT’s Harvey: From World Cup champ to human rights leader

Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Mary Harvey is used to blazing the trail in sports.

Despite growing up without major soccer tournaments to aspire to play in, the goalkeeper helped the U.S. win the inaugural Women’s World Cup in 1991 and the first women’s Olympic soccer title five years later.

“As a women’s national team, we didn’t set out to have wide scale impact, but we did,” Harvey recalled in an interview with The Associated Press. “From that I learned that that’s what I wanted my life to be about: the ability to impact others in a positive way.”

Today, that desire has made her one of the biggest campaigners for human rights through sports.

After starting her career as a consultant in the private sector, Harvey led development work at FIFA from 2003-08, helping formulate a human rights strategy for the successful 2026 World Cup bid by the United States, Canada and Mexico. Now Harvey will be taking that strategy global by heading a new sports human rights watchdog.

“The language of human rights it not certainly the language of sport,” Harvey said. “So I went through that personally and learned it (for the World Cup bid) and so I think the center has an opportunity to provide that.”

Harvey is preparing to move to Switzerland from the United States to serve as chief executive of the Centre for Sport and Human Rights, hoping governing bodies adopt some of FIFA’s newfound commitment to making compliance on labor and discrimination issues central to whether a country can host a major event.

The game-changer was Qatar winning the vote to host the 2022 World Cup and the subsequent focus on labor conditions for migrant workers, which led to the energy-rich nation being compelled to provide greater protections. FIFA made bidders for the 2026 edition own up to their human rights risks and present a means of tackling them ahead of the vote this year.

FIFA serves on the Centre for Sport and Human Rights’ advisory board among 41 organizations across sports, along with sponsors such as Coca-Cola and Visa.

“In the future if people are bidding and they’re less than aggressive with what they want to do on the human right side, with maybe a smart box-ticking exercise,” Harvey said. “There should be accountability for that.”

It’s about leveraging the power of a country chasing a mega sports event to encourage changes.

“This isn’t a panacea for nation building,” Harvey said. “We can exert influence.”

That is necessary beyond major events, or high-profile teams.

Afghan authorities suspended the head of the soccer federation and other officials this month after media revelations of allegations of sexual and physical abuse of female players. Harvey hopes the Centre for Sport and Human Rights can be an outlet for athletes, officials or workers around sport to report wrongdoing and have their safety protected.

“Human rights defenders are targets,” Harvey said.

However, the center still requires investment, she added.

“We can’t operate with any sort of fear of what we say or do and how that affects funding,” Harvey said by telephone. “We have to be able to operate independently and provide a free service.”

The center was launched in June and is chaired by former Irish President Mary Robinson, who has also served as UN High Commissioner for Human Rights.

“We need to bring human rights more centrally into sport and make people involved in sport realize that they have to take responsibility and they have to work on many issues at so many different levels from the big stadiums to discrimination or racism or trafficking,” Robinson told the AP.

Using the center’s status, Robinson will be looking to secure greater protections for local communities impacted by sports events – such as the traders forced to close their stalls near World Cup venues, as Robinson complained to FIFA about during the 2010 World Cup in South Africa and 2014 edition in Brazil.

“I hope they won’t exclude those who you know could actually improve their living by being able to trade around the stadiums and get the footfall on big occasions,” Robinson said.

There are also concerns about how free labor can be relied on to operate events.

“Volunteers can play a role,” Robinson said, “but not if it displaces the potential for people having jobs where the entities can well afford to give people the opportunity to have gainful employment rather than work as volunteers.”

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

FC Cincinnati acquires Kendall Waston from Vancouver

Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press via AP
Leave a comment

There was some teeth-grinding around MLS circles that perhaps FC Cincinnati bringing many of its USL players to the top flight could be a naive decision that leads to a Minnesota United level first year struggle.

Those concerns should be somewhat if not largely quelled on Tuesday, as FCC added two international quality backs and several other players via trades and the Expansion Draft.

[ RECAP: Liverpool 1-0 Napoli ]

FCC saved the best for last, acquiring Kendall Waston from the Vancouver Whitecaps for a lot of numbers and slots and stuff (via FCCincinnati.com):

  • $450,000 of General Allocation Money
  • $300,000 of Targeted Allocation Money
  • The 2019 international roster spot obtained from the Colorado Rapids via trade after the 2018 MLS Expansion Draft.
  • Vancouver will retain a percentage of future transfer fees should FC Cincinnati trade or transfer Waston.
  • Additionally, should Waston reach certain performance-based incentives with FC Cincinnati, Vancouver will also receive an additional $75,000 in GAM.

With respect to Greg Garza, no move is more promising than the rescue of Waston from Vancouver.

Waston had a down year this season with the Caps, but so did the Caps. The captain was angered by the firing of coach Carl Robinson, and said he was ready to move on (Vancouver also traded another critic, Kei Kamara, on Tuesday).

Thirty times capped by Costa Rica, Waston scored against Switzerland in his only action of the 2018 World Cup.

If Emmanuel Ledesma is able to have half the impact he had in USL, find steady goalkeeping, and line up a CB to pair with Waston (Forrest Lasso?), FCC is going to surprise a lot of teams.

Possible Champions League opponents (so far) for Liverpool, Spurs

AP Photo/Dave Thompson
Leave a comment

First things first: There aren’t going to be any dogs in the UEFA Champions League’s Round of 16, but there are certainly teams you’d like to see on your docket more than others.

Now that Liverpool and Tottenham Hotspur have finished second in their groups, with Manchester United likely to join them, meaning Man City already has a good idea of its possible opponents.

[ MORE: UCL Weds. preview ]

In the Champions League Round of 16, you cannot be drawn with a team from your group or your domestic league. Both rules go out the window from the quarterfinals all the way to the final.

As it stands now, here are the first- and second-seeded teams:

First place: Borussia Dortmund, Barcelona, PSG, Porto, Real Madrid.

Second place: Liverpool, Schalke, Spurs, Atletico Madrid, Roma

Likely to join that top group are Bayern Munich, Man City, and Juventus, which means a rough ride for the second place sides.

And should City get a point or lose and see Lyon drop one or three, it could have its potential field winnowed to four if Juventus handles its business in Switzerland to keep Man Utd out of first.

So fans of Liverpool and Spurs should be hoping to see Ajax surprise Bayern Munich with a win in Amsterdam, and they’d also like to see Juventus slip up at Young Boys and Man Utd win in Valencia.

City fans will hope for a win over Hoffenheim (or Lyon dropping points) and Bayern Munich and Juventus to handle their business and win their groups.

Possible opponents in the Round of 16 with one day of group play to go

Liverpool: Borussia Dortmund, Barcelona, Porto, Bayern Munich, Ajax, Lyon, Real Madrid, Juventus

Tottenham Hotspur: Borussia Dortmund, PSG, Porto, Bayern Munich, Ajax, Lyon, Real Madrid, Juventus

Man City: Atletico Madrid, Borussia Dortmund, Barcelona, PSG, Porto, Schalke, Bayern Munich, Ajax, Real Madrid, Roma, Juventus.

Manchester United: Atletico Madrid, Borussia Dortmund, Barcelona, PSG, Porto, Schalke, Bayern Munich, Ajax, Real Madrid, Roma, Lyon, Shakhtar Donetsk.

Champions League Weds. preview: Group stage conclusion

Martin Rickett/PA via AP
Leave a comment

Manchester United has already clinched its spot in the UEFA Champions League knockout rounds and faces rivals Liverpool on Sunday in the Premier League, but manager Jose Mourinho isn’t mailing it in when it comes to his lineup on Wednesday in Valencia.

[ MORE: Champions League standings ]

Mourinho will start Paul Pogba and use all senior players at the start of the match, though he is bringing a pair of youngsters for the experience. From ManUtd.com:

“I’m looking for him to play well, and to have a good impact in the game and in the team. … [It will be] a team with many players that don’t have many miles in their legs, a team with some players that are not playing a lot. So I hope that people like Paul and a couple of others that are normally in the team, who have the number of miles that players need to be at that top level, I hope that they can have a good impact on the team.”

(Mike Egerton/PA via AP)

Man City has also clinched its spot in the next round but still has the group’s top slot in play and is also smarting following its first league loss since last Spring.

City fell to Chelsea 2-0 at Stamford Bridge this weekend, and will host a Hoffenheim side still attempting to finish in the Europa League place.

Rest players? With Sergio Aguero, David Silva, and Kevin De Bruyne unavailable, Pep Guardiola doesn’t have much of a choice as to who he can suit up on Wednesday at the Etihad Stadium.

“We have 15 players available, so I can’t do it too much,” he said.“We are in next stage which is important but we have to try and win every game, to finish first. Last 16 is always tough but in general the next Monday when there is a draw it’s a success we are there and the team we will face will be tough.

“They were incredible against Donetsk and they lost. It was incredible and fascinating to watch as a spectator. My admiration for Hoffenheim has increased. I knew about Julian Nagelsmann and his team but now I realize how tough tomorrow will be.”

The other match to monitor is in City’s group, where Shakhtar Donetsk and Lyon remain alive for the last spot in the Round of 16.

Full UEFA CHampions League docket

Viktoria Plzen vs. AS Roma — 12:55 p.m. ET
Real Madrid vs. CSKA Moscow — 12:55 p.m. ET
Young Boys vs. Juventus — 3 p.m. ET
Benfica vs. AEK Athens — 3 p.m. ET
Shakhtar Donetsk vs. Lyon — 3 p.m. ET
Man City vs. Hoffenheim — 3 p.m. ET
Ajax vs. Bayern Munich — 3 p.m. ET
Valencia vs. Manchester United — 3 p.m. ET