PL Playback: Scramble for second place

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SCRAMBLE FOR SECOND

Manchester City can go 16 points clear atop the Premier League table with 10 games to go if they beat Arsenal this Thursday so, aside from a monumental collapse from Pep Guardiola‘s men, the made scramble for second place is on.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights

Yet this isn’t just about being the “best of the rest” behind City’s historic season. Oh no. In the absence of a tight title race, the top four battle is increasingly becoming the story of the season.

Increasingly the question being asked is “who will finish second in the Premier League?”

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Let’s take a closer look at where each club is at in that battle.


Manchester United
Current position: 2nd (59 points)
Remaining schedule: Crystal Palace (A), Liverpool (H), West Ham (A), Swansea (H), Man City (A), West Brom (H), Bournemouth (A), Arsenal (H), Brighton (A), Watford (H)
Second worthy? – Not the most attractive team in the PL but Mourinho’s men are grinding out wins and Romelu Lukaku is doing the business. Games against Man City, Liverpool and Arsenal (the latter two at home) will be key in deciding if they finish second. Runners up behind City, an FA Cup title and a place in the UCL last four would be a very good season for Jose Mourinho and show significant progress. Now, he just needs to get Paul Pogba firing and get some of his key defenders back to full fitness and they can have a real go in Europe and in the FA Cup.

Liverpool


Current position: 3rd (57 points)
Remaining schedule: Newcastle (H), Man United (A), Watford (H), Crystal Palace (A), Everton (A), Bournemouth (H), West Brom (A), Stoke (H), Chelsea (A), Brighton (H)
Second worthy? – No doubt about it, along with Man City and Tottenham, Liverpool are one of the best teams to watch in the Premier League. Jurgen Klopp‘s side boast star attackers in Mohamed Salah, Roberto Firmino and Sadio Mane who are ripping teams apart. Just one defeat in 19 PL games proves their consistency and many will say Liverpool are worthy of second place. Their game at United is huge in deciding where they will finish as Klopp will also eye at least reaching the UCL last four with more than one foot in the last eight. Liverpool’s schedule, on paper, is the easiest of the current top four.

Tottenham Hotspur


Current position: 4th (55 points)
Remaining schedule: Huddersfield (H), Bournemouth (A), Newcastle (H), Chelsea (A), Stoke (A), Man City (H), Brighton (A), Watford (H), West Brom (A), Leicester (H)
Second worthy? – Like Liverpool, they are right up there when it comes to being attractive to watch. Mauricio Pochettino‘s youngsters have matured this season and they seem set to make the UCL’s last eight too after their coming of age display at Juventus. The FA Cup has been troublesome for Spurs but they should make the semifinals and a second place finish and an FA Cup final along with a deep run in the UCL would be a phenomenal return after their problems at Wembley early on this season. Harry Kane deserves to win some type of silverware but a second-consecutive runners up spot in the PL would be another massive achievement and Spurs’ remaining schedule is pretty kind.

Chelsea
Current position: 5th (53 points)
Remaining schedule: Man City (A), Crystal Palace (H), Burnley (A), Tottenham (H), West Ham (H), Southampton (A), Huddersfield (H), Swansea (A), Liverpool (H), Newcastle (A)
Second worthy? – No, not really. Chelsea have huffed and puffed all season long and there’s something not quite right about Antonio Conte‘s men. We all know there are issues behind-the-scenes and would genuinely be a shock if Conte was still in charge next season. On their day they are still able to beat anyone, but Chelsea haven’t got much momentum and have now won just four of their last 13 games in all competitions. They badly need Alvaro Morata or Olivier Giroud to deliver key goals late in the season to secure a top four spot (they play thre of the current top four), go deep in the FA Cup and to try and somehow get past Barcelona in the second leg of their UCL quarterfinal.

Arsenal
Current position: 6th (45 points)
Remaining schedule: Man City (H), Brighton (A), Watford (H), Leicester (A), Stoke (H), Southampton (H), Newcastle (A), West Ham (H), Man United (A), Burnley (H), Huddersfield (A)
Second worthy? – Nah. Not even top four worthy. Eight points off the top four with a game in hand (albeit against Man City this Thursday) means that Arsene Wenger‘s men have a chance of sneaking in the top four but it’s a very slim chance that will happen. After the League Cup final hammering at the hands of Man City, confidence will be low as it proved just how far Arsenal have fallen. It’s all about winning the Europa League now for Arsenal as that is their most realistic chance of making it into the Champions League next season.


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

Nothing to separate Portland and 10-man LAFC

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There was entertainment value in Los Angeles FC’s potential playoff preview with the Portland Timbers on Sunday in the City of Angels, but all that arrived was a scoreless draw.

[ MORE: Atlanta 1-1 Seattle ]

Both Giovani Savarese’s Timbers and Bob Bradley‘s nickname-free expansion club remain in the West’s Top Four. PLAFC remains unbeaten at home during their maiden voyage through Major League Soccer.

Adama Diomande came close for the hosts, who finished with 10-men when Lee Nguyen went studs-up on Sebastian Blanco‘s thigh for a pretty easy red card (though it took some time for Silviu Petrescu to produce the red).

VIDEO: France stars projected onto Arc de Triomphe

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If France’s players had any doubt about the level of import their World Cup title had back home, it was erased when their photos were projected onto one of the most celebrated monuments in the world.

The photos of Hugo Lloris, Paul Pogba, Antoine Griezmann, and company made their way onto the Arc de Triomphe on Sunday, hours after France defeated Croatia 4-2 in the World Cup Final.

[ MORE: Latest 2018 World Cup news ] 

The Arc de Triomphe honors those who died in the French Revolution and early 19th century wars, and sits above France’s Tomb of the Unknown Soldier from World War I.

How humbling must it be for those players to grace such a heavy monument (both in weight and substance).

Dalic: In one day, Croatia went from lucky to unlucky

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Ante Cacic’s Croatia was on pace to miss out on the World Cup.

Zlatko Dalic’s Croatia rallied the troops to second place in their qualifying group, a playoff defeat of Greece, and a run to the World Cup Final.

Pretty decent stuff.

[ MORE: FIFA awards Golden Ball, Golden Glove ]

And surely the 51-year-old will reflect on that, probably even this evening, but he’s more focused on a letdown after Sunday’s 4-2 loss to highly-favored France.

Key to the match was a penalty awarded to France when a partially-obscured Mario Mandzukic handled a ball inside the 18, leading to Antoine Griezmann’s pivotal goal.

The PK was awarded via VAR, and France went up 2-1 en route to a three-goal lead. From the AFP:

“I never comment on referees but in a World Cup final you do not give such a penalty,” said Dalic.

“It in no way diminishes France’s win. We were a bit unlucky. Maybe in the first six games we were favored by luck and today we weren’t.

“I have to congratulate my players. Maybe today we played our best game at these championships. Against such a strong side as France you must not make mistakes. We are a bit sad but we must also be proud of what we’ve done.”

Croatia had two-thirds of the ball and doubled France’s shot attempts, and Dalic isn’t the least bit controversial in wondering whether the match is much different if that penalty goes unawarded by referee Nestor Pitana.

Atlanta comes back to draw 10-man Seattle (video)

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A scrappy if not downright venomous affair between the lowly Seattle Sounders and high-flying Atlanta United ended in a 1-1 draw in Georgia on Sunday.

The Sounders went ahead through a Nicolas Lodeiro penalty kick, awarded via VAR a la this morning’s World Cup Final, but Atlanta leveled the score with a highlight which show every bit of the game story.

[ MORE: FIFA awards Golden Ball, Golden Glove ]

Just check Josef Martinez’s barking at Stefan Frei, who made an uncharacteristic error on the play, after his 19th goal of the season (Nice cross, Julian Gressel).

Martinez needs nine more goals to break the MLS single season record, and he has 13 games to score them.

Jordan McCrary was sent off for Seattle in the 63rd minute for a second yellow, but Seattle navigated the final half hour or so to scoop up an unlikely point.

Atlanta still sits first with its earned point but opens the door for New York City FC to reach the top of the table when it plays its match-in-hand, while Seattle is now 11 points back of the West’s final playoff spot.