Playback: Where do City rank among best-ever PL teams?

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RANKING THE CREME DE LA CREME

It is a question which is dominating the Premier League right now: is this Manchester City team the best in Premier League history?

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There is no doubt that even without winning the Premier League title this season (we are not even halfway in, folks) Pep Guardiola‘s men are set to be up there with the best teams the PL has ever seen after a record-breaking 16 consecutive wins and just generally breaking records like they’re going out of fashion.

They have plenty of competition though to be the best-ever in PL history, though, and they’ll likely need to go the entire PL season unbeaten if they are to be known as the best team ever assembled in England’s top-flight. There are plenty of clubs who have had fine squads (Liverpool, Tottenham, Newcastle) but to be among the PL’s best, you simply have to have won the trophy.

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Below we rank the top five teams in PL history, with this City side among them.


1. Arsenal (2003-04)


They won the Premier League title without losing (winning 26 games and drawing 12) “The Invincibles” have gone down in folklore for their incredible achievement. Thierry Henry, Dennis Bergkamp, Robert Pires, Sol Campbell and Patrick Vieira were in their prime and they just didn’t look like losing. Arsene Wenger has the perfect mixture of passion and panache to make history and their incredible 49-game unbeaten run is unlikely to be surpassed, even by Man City. Apart from Arsenal, only Preston North End in the 1888-89 season have gone an entire campaign unbeaten. The only slight disappointment was that Arsenal didn’t win any other domestic trophies and lost in the Champions League last eight. That said, Henry scored 39 goals in all competitions and 30 in the PL to lead the Gunners to a feat that many believe will never be repeated.


2. Manchester City (2017-18)*if they win the title


If (and it’s still a big if despite their early season dominance) City win the title this season, given their 16-game winning run and attacking ability they will go down as the greatest team ever. It all depends on if they can go the entire season unbeaten but Guardiola is bringing soccer perfection to the PL. Yes, they’ve spent big to get there but the likes of Chelsea and Manchester United have also thrown plenty of cash at their squads and are nowhere near where City are right now. With Kevin De Bruyne, David Silva, Raheem Sterling, Leroy Sane, Sergio Aguero and Gabriel Jesus in attack, this City side have so many attacking weapons but adding Kyle Walker, Danilo and Benjamin Mendy in defense, plus Ederson in goal, has been a huge reason why they’ve blown the PL away. History is in the making for this City side, in more ways than one. They are totally dominating the Premier League.


3. Manchester United (1998-99)


It took the famous treble winning team until the final day of the Premier League season to win the league title, but their exploits in winning the FA Cup and the UEFA Champions League made up for it. Sir Alex Ferguson (just Alex Ferguson back then, actually) rotated his team masterfully in the final months of the season to pull off the greatest achievement in British soccer history. This was vintage United. Peter Schmeichel in goal behind a back four of Neville, Stam, Johnsen and Irwin, while Paul Scholes, Roy Keane, David Beckham and Ryan Giggs were in midfield and Dwight Yorke and Andy Cole were up top. A perfect blend of youth and experience, skill and determination. This was a true “team first” effort with the likes of Ole Gunnar Solksjaer, Teddy Sheringham, Nicky Butt, Henning Berg, Phil Neville and Jesper Blomqvist all playing their parts. Fergie was knighted after their famous last-gasp win in Barcelona against Bayern Munich and although they only won the PL title by one point, their exploits in the FA Cup (where they beat second-place Arsenal in heroic fashion in the semifinal) and in Europe played a huge part in them not running away with the title.


4. Chelsea (2004-05)

Jose Mourinho won the Premier League title in his first two seasons in charge of Chelsea but his squad in 2004-05, which sealed a first league title in 50 years, was the best. Chelsea simply tore the Premier League apart. Didier Drogba led the line as Frank Lampard charged forward from midfield to be the top scorer, while Arjen Robben was on the wing and Claude Makele protected the back four with Ricardo Carvalho and John Terry leading from the back as a young Petr Cech excelled in goal. Chelsea had everything and lost just one game all season long on their way to reaching 95 points, which is still a record points total for the Premier League champions. Defensively they were incredible as they set PL records for the least goals conceded (15), most shutouts (25) and fewest away goals conceded in a season (9). Mourinho, fresh from his Champions League and treble success at FC Porto, proved he was “The Special One” and also won the League Cup as well as losing in the UCL semifinals to Liverpool. Chelsea have won the title four times since 2004-05 but the squad they had over 12 years ago was the finest the west London club has ever seen.


5. Manchester United (2007-08)

Yep, they had to have at least two teams in the top five. With 13 Premier League titles under their belt, they gained more points in their title wins either side of the 2007-08 campaign, but this was arguably their most impressive PL success. Cristiano Ronaldo led United’s charge as the Portuguese superstar scored 42 goals in all competitions to help them win the Premier League and UEFA Champions League. Wayne Rooney and Carlos Tevez were Ronaldo’s partners in crime as the trio scored 79 goals between them in all competitions. Paul Scholes, Ryan Giggs, Owen Hargreaves, Anderson and Michael Carrick were rotated expertly in midfield by Fergie and at the back Rio Ferdinand, Nemanja Vidic, Patrice Evra and Edwin van der Sar were formidable. After edging past Chelsea and Arsenal to the PL title, Fergie led United to UCL glory in Moscow against Chelsea as they won on penalty kicks. The trio of Rooney, Tevez and Ronaldo were appointment viewing and United were top of the table from March and never gave up their perch with Chelsea and Arsenal breathing down their necks.


MANAGERIAL MERRY-GO-ROUND IN FINE FETTLE

With familiar faces returning to the PL in droves over the past few months, most of them are doing rather well with their respective new clubs.

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Sam Allardyce has won four from five with Everton who are now dreaming of Europe. Roy Hodgson is unbeaten in seven with Palace and has them out of the bottom three after two wins on the spin. David Moyes has won two of his last three at West Ham United and has turned them into a tough team to beat. Alan Pardew is slowly turning things around at West Brom.

There were plenty of moans and groans when these experienced coaches who have been on the merry-go-round a few more times than they care to mention were appointed, but they’re proving they can get the job done.

Allardyce is on his seventh PL club. Hodgson and Pardew both at their fifth. Moyes on his fourth.

The initial bump of having a new manager has led Everton and West Ham out of trouble, and Hodgson is starting to turn things around at Palace after inheriting a real mess from Frank De Boer.

Pardew, another old hand who is back in the PL, will be hoping it is his time to shine next. His West Brom side drew away at Liverpool and although they still look goal-shy, he has made them more stubborn to break down.

All four newbies have settled in well and you can expect to see plenty more familiar faces arrive if the likes of Stoke City, Southampton and Swansea continue to struggle.


LET THE GAMES CONTINUE

This is it. Primetime has arrived.

The holiday season is here and the Premier League is in full flow with 40 games coming up over 11 days from this Friday. Like March Madness, having NFL games on Thanksgiving and the NBA’s Christmas Day games, PL action dominates the holidays.

Bring. It. On.

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Below is the schedule in full for Boxing Day, the New Year’s Day games and more.

At this time of the year we are full of festive cheer but in the Premier League, this deluge of games can make or break a campaign.

Think about that when you’re tucking into your festive feasts while Romelu Lukaku, Kevin de Bruyne and Eden Hazard limber up and prepare themselves for yet another game.


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

USMNT’s Arriola likely will miss MLS season, six World Cup qualifiers

Paul Arriola
AP Photo/LM Otero
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WASHINGTON (AP) D.C. United midfielder Paul Arriola had major knee surgery Monday and likely will miss the entire Major League Soccer season and the United States’ first six qualifying matches for the 2022 World Cup

The operation was to reconstruct his right anterior cruciate ligament. The team said there was no additional cartilage damage.

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The 25-year-old midfielder injured his knee Feb. 15 during D.C. United’s preseason match against Orlando in Tampa, Florida.

Arriola has been a regular starter for the U.S. national team under coach Gregg Berhalter. Arriola has five goals in 33 international appearances.

After failing to reach the 2018 World Cup, the U.S. starts qualifying for the 2022 tournament this year. The Americans have two matches each in September, October and November, then complete qualifying with two games apiece in March and September 2021.

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

State of play in CONCACAF Champions League

CONCACAF Champions League
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Four of five Major League Soccer clubs alive in the CONCACAF Champions League Round of 16 are in fine shape to reach the quarterfinals after one leg.

The fifth has a tall hill to climb.

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LAFC trails Club Leon by two and did not collect an away goal in Mexico during first leg play last week.

“It’s 2-0, but we’re going to work hard,” said LAFC attacker Latif Blessing. “We’re going to prepare ourselves to win the next game. … We did good, but we want to win. It couldn’t happen that way but we’re going to prepare next game to win this game. We need to win.”

The second leg in L.A. is one of the last two matches of the round, kicking off at 10 p.m. ET Thursday just as Seattle Sounders square off with Olimpia.

The Honduran side managed a controversial comeback in the 2-2 draw with Jordan Morris-fueled Seattle last week, but the Sounders will be happy to have those two away goals and home field.

Montreal Impact has the same situation for Deportivo Saprissa’s visit at 8 p.m. ET Wednesday, while Atlanta United scored an away goal in a draw with Motagua and hosts the visitors from Honduras’ capital at 8 p.m. ET Tuesday.

That leaves us with NYCFC, who got a Heber hat trick amongst five away goals at Costa Rican side San Carlos in a 5-3 win. The second leg begins at 6 p.m. ET Wednesday at Red Bull Arena (yes, you read that correctly).

Elsewhere, Liga MX sides don’t have it much better. Cruz Azul leads Portmore 2-1 heading back to Mexico, while Club America scored an away goal in a draw with Comunicaciones.

Finally, Tigres UANL trails 2-1 after one leg with Alianza in El Salvador.

CCL second leg schedule
all times ET

Atlanta United v. Motagua (1-1) — 8 p.m. Tuesday
Cruz Azul v. Portmore United (2-1) — 10 p.m. Tuesday
NYCFC v. San Carlos (5-3) — 6 p.m. Wednesday
Montreal Impact v. Deportivo Saprissa (2-2) — 8 p.m. Wednesday
Tigres UANL v. Alianza (1-2) — 8 p.m. Wednesday
Club America v. Comunicaciones (1-1) — 10 p.m. Wednesday
Seattle Sounders v. Olimpia (2-2) — 10 p.m. Thursday
LAFC v Leon (0-2) — 10 p.m. Thursday

Eleven to go: Ranking obstacles on Liverpool’s unbeaten path

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Liverpool has won all five of its matches since the last time we evaluated its path to an unbeaten Premier League season.

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Those matches were ranked 14th, 12th, 11th, 10th, and 4th on our first rankings of obstacles to immortality, so very little of the heavy lifting has been conducted.

Let’s get something out of the way: If Liverpool is unable to overturn their first leg deficit against Atletico Madrid in the Champions League, you can probably etch that zero in the league loss column into stone.

That said, many expect the Reds to overcome that 1-0 disadvantage from Madrid, so here’s where we slot the difficulties moving forward.

Unranked — Crystal Palace at home (March 21) and Brighton away (April 18) — Both of these dates are very easy on the eyes, but will be moved if Liverpool is alive in the FA Cup.

9. Newcastle away, time TBD May 17 — We’re now calling this the easiest date left. Klopp’s men aren’t going to lose an unbeaten season at the altar just because Steve Bruce bunkers down. St. James’ Park is a hassle, but

8. Watford away, 12:30 p.m. ET Saturday Klopp probably feels like he’s already playing with house money in the FA Cup, so there’s no reason to think he’ll hand any priority at all to the following FA Cup meeting with Chelsea.

7. Bournemouth home, 7:30 a.m. ET March 7 Situated between Chelsea in the FA Cup and the home UCL second leg versus Atleti, it’s not easy…  but the Cherries have given us less reason to believe they’ll threaten the Reds than any other team besides Newcastle.

6. Aston Villa home, 11:30 a.m. ET April 12Dean Smith‘s desperate Villans will have Villa Park rocking before Liverpool’s possible UCL quarterfinals 2nd leg days later.

5. Burnley home, 7:30 a.m. ET April 25 — Taking place just before a possible UCL quarterfinal first leg, Burnley will try to trouble the Reds in a similar manner to West Ham.

4. Chelsea home, time TBD May 9 — Both the Blues and Reds could be coming off UCL semifinal second legs. Don’t forget that Chelsea took the Reds to the wire in the UEFA Super Cup despite it being very early in Frank Lampard‘s tenure.

3. Arsenal away, time TBD May 2 — Both sides may be days away from needing a result to qualify for the UCL or UEL final.

2. Everton away, 4 p.m. ET March 16 — This may as well be the only match left on the Toffees’ docket that matters more than another, as Carlo Ancelotti and his men know the message they could send regarding the building up of Everton.

Not only that, but Everton has nothing else left to circle, no other competitions, nothing.

1. Man City away, 11:30 a.m. ET April 5 — Taking place 3-4 days before the UEFA Champions League quarterfinals and on the heels of an international break, it’s the lone date on the calendar that Liverpool won’t be heavy favorites to win.

Champions League: Chelsea, Napoli aim to slow Lewandowski, Messi

UEFA Champions League preview
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Four of the most dangerous attacks in Europe begin their UEFA Champions League Round of 16 ties on Tuesday.

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For Chelsea that means trying to find a way to limit the damage of away goals when Bayern Munich visits Stamford Bridge.

Of course, that means trying to slow lethal Robert Lewandowski. The 31-year-old Polish striker has scored 38 times in 32 appearances this season.

Here’s Frank Lampard, via Football.London:

Form of his life means something special with Lewandowski because of how well he’s been consistently in Europe for the last, how many years, I don’t know,” Lampard said. “Everything about him, from a distance, from afar, is just top class. Having the opportunity to watch a lot of Bayern in build-up to this game, that shines through. Of course, he’s going to be a huge threat. He’s not the only threat but he is a spearhead.”

Lampard points to the Blues work without the ball and away from it that will determine whether they can limit Lewandowski and Bayern.

“We traveled to Ajax and had a fantastic game off the ball,” he said. “We’ve had games like that this year in the league as well. But the levels have to go up.”

The Blues won’t have Christian Pulisic, Callum Hudson-Odoi, and N’Golo Kante, while Ruben Loftus-Cheek is finally available after a long injury absence. Pedro may play.

[ MORE: JPW’s score predictions ]

Tuesday’s other first leg sees Napoli hosting Barcelona, which means Gennaro Gattuso trying to find a way to cool down Lionel Messi.

The world’s top player scored four goals at the weekend and had six assists in his three previous La Liga outings.

Another player who’s helped Barcelona reclaim the league lead will be critical to controlling the midfield against Napoli, and that’s Frenkie de Jong.

The 22-year-old has had fits and starts at Barca, especially this month. He admits that he’s had an odd time adjusting to Messi, the teammate, though it hasn’t been part of the problem. From FCBarcelona.com:

“When I began training with him it was strange, because when I was 12, still in secondary school, I used to watch a lot of football. He was already the best in the world. He won the Ballon d’Or back then, so I was a fan, or whatever you want to call it.”

Napoli boss Gattuso was a bit more effusive when addressing Messi, via Football.Espana:

“I have read whether to make a cage or not, but we need the collective game to combat someone like him, and it is not just him,” Gattuso said. “He is the best in the world, for how he has lived his entire career. He is always perfect, never a misplaced word, he is an example for everyone. He does things that I only see on the PlayStation. He has an incredible quality and for years he has been the best of all-time.”

Both matches kick off at 3 p.m. ET Tuesday.