Premier League Playback: Why Sanchez will leave Arsenal

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WHAT NOW FOR SANCHEZ?

Alexis Sanchez’s benching in Arsenal’s 3-1 defeat at Liverpool was one of the most bizarre decisions in Premier League history.

Sanchez, 28, is Arsenal’s leading scorer and has been involved in more goals than any other PL player this season. He was fully fit and Arsene Wenger was also without his other star man, Mesut Ozil, who was back in London after falling ill.

Wenger gambled and it backfired badly. Now, both he and Arsenal will pay the consequences.

[ MORE: 3 things learned ]

Citing “tactical reasons” for dropping Sanchez and instead starting Danny Welbeck and Olivier Giroud, it was pretty inconceivable that Sanchez (even though he’s been in mixed form of late) wouldn’t have helped Arsenal had he been on the pitch. They were 2-0 down at Liverpool at half time and Wenger had to hold his hands up. He brought on Sanchez at half time and he set up Welbeck’s goal, caused Liverpool countless problems and had a shot blocked in stoppage time which could’ve rescued a point before Liverpool’s late clincher.

His situation at Arsenal seems past the point of rescuing.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays

Talk of a training ground bust-up between Sanchez and his teammates came after the defeat but Wenger has since brushed that off (see above) and called those rumors “completely false” in an angry statement.

All of this bluster aside, it all points to one impending factor: Sanchez will not be at Arsenal next season.

Following the mass speculation, the fiery Chilean forward — we’re talking about a guy who pounded the floor after Arsenal secured a miraculous point at Bournemouth when they trailed 3-0 late in the second half, is often told to stop training so hard and almost cried when subbed out in a routine win at Swansea — could have nipped it all in the bud.

Instead, he said the following on Instagram.

“The true warrior fights not because he hates the ones in front of him, but because he loves those behind him. Let’s go Gunners. The only failure is not trying,” Sanchez said.

That was it.

With Wenger saying that Arsenal Football Club will decide the future of Sanchez, and Ozil, regarding new contracts, it seems ominous that Arsenal’s star man has 15 months to go and there doesn’t seem to be any new contract announcement in sight.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights

He will likely leave this summer for a fee below $30 million as he’ll have just 12 months left on his contract. That will be a steal for whoever buys him and selfishly I hope he stays in the Premier League. Of course, Arsenal will do their utmost to sell Sanchez to Spain, France or Italy if they can but with his former boss Pep Guardiola at Manchester City there’s a real danger that the Gunners are set to lose another star to a PL rival for the prime of their career.

Think Robin Van Persie to Manchester United. Cesc Fabregas to Chelsea, via Barcelona. To a lesser extent Samir Nasri, Gael Clichy, Kolo Toure and Bacary Sagna to Manchester City. Heck, even Marc Overmars, Emmanuel Petit and Patrick Vieira before these guys, but that trio all went overseas.

In the current climate, with six heavyweights all scrapping for the top four and all capable of challenging for the title, Arsenal can’t afford to strengthen a rival. That’s what they will do if Sanchez joins Man City.

Until something changes at Arsenal and they’re willing to break the bank to not only keep but attract the biggest names in the world, they’ll be destined for top four finishes, getting knocked out of the UEFA Champions League last 16 and winning the FA Cup. That’s not something to scoff at. It’s also why Wenger will likely sign the two-year extension gathering dust on his desk before this season is over.

Still, the most important man for Arsenal’s immediate future looks even more likely to move on after this weekend. You can file this article away and dust it off every four or five years when the Gunners are in contract negotiations with a star player about remaining in north London.

It’s the same outcome. But this time with Wenger and Ozil’s future up in the air too it could be incredibly damaging for Arsenal’s ambition of a top four finish. Not just for this season but for the next generation.


CHELSEA UNSTOPPABLE

10 points clear with 11 games to play, Chelsea look imperious as Antonio Conte‘s men march towards the Premier League title.

[ MORE: Chelsea record breakers?

Many things are helping the Italian coach with N'Golo Kante running the show in midfield and a solid defensive unit thriving in the 3-4-3 system he introduced in September, but the form of Eden Hazard has somewhat flown under the radar.

Hazard, 26, is back to his best and is putting the horrors of the 2015-16 campaign behind him. Many thought he would never recover from a horrendous season which saw him look a shadow of the PFA Player of the Year in 2014-15 who led Chelsea to the crown.

[ MORE: 3 things learned

He has 11 goals and four assists in the PL and his latest strike in the 2-1 win at West Ham on Monday summed up Chelsea’s brilliantly incisive play this season. Kante intercepted the ball and gave it to Hazard and that was the trigger for Pedro‘s run. The duo darted forward together, leaving West Ham’s defenders bamboozled as Hazard slotted home the opener after rounding goalkeeper Darren Randolph following a devastating 11-second counter-attack.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ]  

Following the victory, Pro Soccer Talk asked Conte about Hazard’s ability on the counter and just how important he is to this Chelsea team.

“Eden is really important for us; we all know that. He’s a really good player with great technique and talent,” Conte said. “It’s better when he plays between the lines to score on the counter-attack. It’s not his specialty but he’s very good at receiving the ball, going one v one and beating his opponent to score the goal. We also have other options of scoring a goal on the counter-attack, people like Willian and Pedro and Costa, and this is also good.”

They have so many ways to hurt teams — on the counter, from set pieces, by dominating possession, you name it — and it is clear Chelsea will win the PL.

Only seven teams in PL history have had 66 or more points after 27 games of the season. Every single one of them has gone on to win the title. Chelsea currently has 66 points after 27 games.

Even if Man City beat Stoke in midweek to cut Chelsea’s lead at the top to eight points, it seems like the pressure isn’t getting to Chelsea and all of their players are rested and ready each week.

Not having European action has been pivotal in their run of just one defeat in their last 21 games, but so has the brilliance of individuals such as Diego Costa, Kante, David Luiz and the forgotten man: Hazard.


FA GET ZLATAN, MINGS SPOT ON

The officials don’t often get praise, and they didn’t get much this weekend in the Premier League with an impromptu bachelor party muddying the criticism around officials, but in the end the English Football Association got the main point of contention spot on.

[ MORE: Ibra accepts three-game ban ]

On Monday both Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Tyrone Mings were charged with alleged violent conduct for their ongoing spat during Manchester United’s 1-1 draw with Bournemouth at Old Trafford.

Ibrahimovic accepted the charge and has a three-game ban, while Mings is set to contest what is reported to be a six-game ban for his stamp on Zlatan’s head which then led to the an elbow in his face by the veteran Swede.

Kevin Friend and his officials didn’t see the incidents clearly at the time and took no action. With the retrospective action coming in to save the day, it’s a system which works well. Even though Zlatan and Mings both came out and said they didn’t mean to injure one another after the game, they had the look of guilty men plastered across their faces.

Both men will have to take their punishment for a bruising battle. We will also cherish another gem from Zlatan when he tried to explain what happened.

“With the stamp, I don’t see it. I just felt something hit me behind my neck,” Ibrahimovic said. “With the elbow I see it clearly. I jump up, I jump high to protect myself. At the same time I jump for the ball and he jumps into my elbow. Hopefully he didn’t get injured or something. My intention was not to injure, it was the opposite, to protect myself to go for the ball. It was unlucky he jumped into the elbow. This happens many times.”

Okay, Zlatan…


KING KANE

“One season wonder, he’s just a one season wonder!” sang Tottenham’s fans after Harry Kane belted in the opening goal of Spurs’ 3-2 win against Everton on Sunday.

The Englishman, still just 23, added another to take his tally to 19 for the season as he leads the PL in goals and he’s now scored 24 times in 28 games in all competitions for Tottenham. That’s getting to the Ronaldo and Messi-esque bracket of a goal a game or better.

[ MORE: Premier League stats ]

Before the weekend all the talk was about the Kane vs. Romelu Lukaku battle. Give me Kane all day long. He creates goals, drops deep, is a pure finisher and you always know he is going to leave everything out on the pitch. He is one of the most complete forwards in the game and Mauricio Pochettino was correct to say he can go on to become a Spurs legend. With Tottenham in second place, they’re 10 points off Chelsea and it’s destined to be another case of “close, but no cigar” for the second season running in their title hopes.

Their talisman will keep on trucking away though.

Don’t forget, Kane was out for over six weeks this season too through injury. Imagine if he was fit throughout October. Where would Spurs be had Kane been on hand as they dropped points against Leicester, Bournemouth and West Brom during his absence?

Probably challenging Chelsea for the title.

Still, with no defeats at home all season and a record nine-straight home wins in the PL they are looking nailed on for a top four finish as they only have two of the top four (Arsenal and Manchester  United) left to play. Both at home. That will please Pochettino as he kicks on the project to the next step ahead of the stadium move and with his young squad all committed to the vision.

Plus, their goal celebrations are as awesome as they are elaborate…


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.

Nani scores twice as Orlando City thrashes FC Cincinnati

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Nani may not be the star he once was while he played for Manchester United, but he’s still making a powerful impact in MLS.

The Portuguese international scored his sixth and seventh goals of the season as Orlando City ran circles expansion side FC Cincinnati, winning 5-1. Along with Nani, Tesho Akindele scored a brace and Dom Dwyer came off the bench and scored a header in the win.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ]

Aside from having a chance to record a big win over a struggling side, Orlando City may have been ultra motivated on Sunday. Orlando City manager James O’Connor has history with FC Cincinnati from his time at Louisville City, with intense rivalry matches taking place as well as arguments between O’Connor and former FC Cincinnati coach Alan Koch on the sidelines.

FC Cincinnati actually went up early with a Darren Mattocks finish past Brian Rowe, but it didn’t take long for Orlando City to respond. Akindele fired home from 20-yards out in the 37th minute to make it 1-1. Early in the second half, Nani scored on a penalty kick rebound to make it 2-1 to the hosts, and then he added a second off a cross from the right to blast the game wide open.

With the win, Orlando City moved just one point outside of a playoff place, while Cincinnati remains in the basement of the Eastern Conference. However, Orlando City has a difficult road ahead, with matches against the LA Galaxy, Montreal Impact and D.C. United to come.

Serie A: Napoli rout Inter, leaving UCL race wide open heading into final week

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The race for the third and four places in Serie A, and with it, a berth in the UEFA Champions League next season, remain open heading into the final week of the season, thanks to a stellar performance from Napoli.

Playing at home in the Stadio San Paolo, Napoli thrashed Inter Milan, 4-1, to keep Inter in fourth place in the table on 66 points. That’s just one point ahead of AC Milan in fifth place, which jumped up after a 2-0 win over Frosinone, and three points ahead of AS Roma, which succumbed to a scoreless draw with Sassuolo this weekend. Atalanta meanwhile came ten minutes from beating Juventus in Turin, and even with a point in a 1-1 draw, Atalanta is still only in third place by 66 points.

[READ: Bayern Munich still too good for the rest this season]

Piotr Zielinski made a statement with a 30-yard blast past Samir Handanovic in the 16th minute to put Napoli up 1-0 and then Dries Mertens and a pair of goals from Fabian Ruiz gave the Neapolitans a massive lead, while leaving Inter in a precarious position. Mauro Icardi scored late to give Inter a small reprieve, but the defeat was set and it leaves Inter essentially needing to win in the final week of the season to secure a place in the Champions League next year.

Elsewhere, Josip Ilicic scored his 12th league goal of the season as Atalanta took Juventus down to the wire in Juve’s final home match of the season. Juventus fans serenaded Andrea Barzagli, playing his final game for the Bianconeri, and even had a message of support for Daniele De Rossi.

Gianluigi Buffon was even in attendance.

Also in action in Serie A, Parma beat Fiorentina, 1-0 and Empoli defeated Torino, 4-1.

Report: Former Chelsea great Clarke set to be new Scotland manager

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The Scotland FA is set to appoint a former Chelsea star as its new men’s national team manager.

Former Chelsea midfielder, and West Bromwich Albion and Reading manager Steve Clark is reportedly in talks with the Scotland FA to take over the national team. Clark has a difficult job ahead, with Scotland already having lost, 3-0, at Kazakhstan in UEFA Euro 2020 qualifying.

[ STREAM: Every PL match live ]

 

Although Scotland finished top of their group in Level C of the UEFA Nations League and earning promotion to League B, the team’s play was very up and down under Alex McLeish, back in the job after a one-year spell in 2017. McLeish eventually lost the federation’s support after the 3-0 defeat at Kazakhstan, ranked then 117th in the world, made Scotland look like Europe’s whipping boy. Though Scotland saved some face with a 2-0 win over San Marino, the damage was done.

Clarke, after disappointing tenures at West Bromwich and Reading in his first full managerial roles, has since found success in Scotland. He’s led Kilmarnock this season to third place in the table and a spot in the Europa League, an impressive feat considering the club’s budget is dwarfed by Celtic and Rangers. Hibernians and Hearts of Midlothain have also recently spent big on new signings, yet Kilmarnock finished above them this season.

Clarke, who only played a half dozen times for Scotland during his playing career, will now have to galvanize the squad ahead of two crucial qualifications in June and quickly imprint his tactical ideas and plan in a short amount of time. During his time at Chelsea, Clarke won the FA Cup, League Cup, and UEFA Cup Winners Cup between 1987 and 1998.

Germany: Below-par Bayern Munich still too good for the rest

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BERLIN (AP) Even a below-par Bayern Munich side was just too good for the rest.

Bayern’s record-extending seventh consecutive Bundesliga title confirmed the distance between the Bavarian powerhouse and its rivals after a season in which it failed to impress as before.

[ MORE: Kompany finds new/old club ]

For the first time in ten years the title race went to the last day of the season, with Niko Kovac’s side missing the chance to wrap it up a week earlier after being held to a goalless draw in Leipzig. His team wasn’t going to miss another chance as it routed Eintracht Frankfurt 5-1 to clinch a 29th German championship on Saturday.

In the end, Bayern’s 5-0 win at home over Borussia Dortmund, its closest and only challenger, on April 4 illustrated the gulf in class between the sides and effectively decided the league outcome. Bayern should have won by more after racing into a 4-0 half-time lead, but Kovac’s team eased off in the second half with Dortmund in damage-control mode.

It proved to be the title that Dortmund gave away. Lucien Favre’s side had a nine-point lead over Bayern at one stage, but buckled under the pressure of a title challenge and gave away points in games it should have won.

Dortmund developed an unfortunate tendency to concede late goals, and was frustrated in successive draws against Eintracht Frankfurt, Hoffenheim and lowly Nuremberg, which was relegated at the end of the season.

Bayern President Uli Hoeness had suggested in February that Bayern could “sacrifice the championship for one year” to give veteran players like Arjen Robben, Franck Ribery and Rafinha a worthy farewell.

“I have won more than 50 titles in my lifetime, so one or another doesn’t matter,” Hoeness said at the time.

Hoeness needn’t have worried. On Saturday, he was able to give the players a perfect sendoff, with Robben and Ribery both coming on as substitutes to score in their final Bundesliga appearances.

Beer flowed among the tears and confetti and the Bayern veterans bade their farewells and celebrated another championship – for Ribery it was a record ninth league title in 12 years at the club.

It was a happy end to a difficult season. The 36-year-old Ribery made no secret of his wish to stay at Bayern and will have heard how the 40-year-old Claudio Pizarro, who also scored Saturday, agreed a one-year extension to his contract at Werder Bremen the same day.

Kovac has had to endure ongoing speculation over his future after ambiguous comments from his superiors.

“We’ll see,” sporting director Hasan Salihamidzic said to repeated questions over Kovac’s future recently, while chairman Karl-Heinz-Rummenigge could only say he has “no problem” with Kovac.

Kovac himself said on Saturday that he was sure he would remain after receiving first-hand information from those responsible, but the lack of public endorsement from the club has done little to stop the speculation.

Even a win over Leipzig in the German Cup final next Saturday might not be enough for Kovac, who has fans’ backing but has struggled for authority at the club since Bayern went four games without a win in late September-early October.

The club lashed out at the media on Oct. 19 for “derogatory, slanderous reporting” of its poor form, while Hoeness was booed and whistled at the club’s AGM in November for the first time over sponsorship deals with Qatar, his railing against the media, and personal tirades against former players and coaches.

Amid the squabbling, Bayern has lost its aura of invincibility. The side’s meek Champions League exit to Liverpool after a 3-1 defeat at home highlighted the need to refresh the squad.

The process is already underway with World Cup winners Lucas Hernandez and Benjamin Pavard arriving from Atletico Madrid and Stuttgart, respectively, to shore up the defense. The 23-year-old Hernandez is costing a Bundesliga-record 80 million euros ($90 million) while Pavard is joining from Stuttgart for a reported 35 million ($40 million).

Bayern is also reportedly interested in Germany striker Timo Werner, while Hoeness has hinted at a host of other signings.

After strengthening in the summer, Bayern is likely to be even harder to catch for Dortmund and the rest next season.

“I know the chance was huge this season,” Dortmund captain Marco Reus said.

More AP German soccer coverage: https://apnews.com/Bundesliga and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports

Ciaran Fahey on Twitter: https://twitter.com/cfaheyAP