Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images

Top Premier League storylines for Week 36

Leave a comment

If you blinked and missed the first 35 weeks of the 2018-19 Premier League season — here’s hoping you didn’t — at least you’re here for what should be a thrilling sprint to the finish for each of the top-six positions, plus a desperate sprint away from the third and final relegation spot.

[ MORE: Man City win Manchester derby, inch closer to defending title ]

Liverpool look to re-apply the pressure on Man City
Liverpool v. Huddersfield, 3 p.m. ET, Friday, on NBCSN [ STREAM ]
Burnley v. Man City, 9:05 a.m. ET, Sunday, on NBCSN [ STREAM ]

As Manchester City and Liverpool go back and forth in the PL title race, it’s Liverpool who’ll go first in Week 36 and look to leapfrog Man City once again before they take the field later in the weekend. Already-relegated Huddersfield Town are set to visit Anfield on Friday, which means the Reds could be two points clear of City for nearly 48 hours, until the Sky Blues visit 15th-place Burnley on Sunday. Liverpool have won six straight in league play, which would be deserving title-winning form if City hadn’t won 11 straight to not only remain top of the table, but also to get there in the first place. The title race should come down to the season’s final day, but we can’t get to Week 38 without first playing Week 36.

Red Devils’ last stand

Man United v. Chelsea, 11:30 a.m. ET, Sunday, on NBCSN [ STREAM ]

This one is really quite simple: if Manchester United were to lose to Chelsea at Old Trafford on Sunday, they would fall six points back of the Blues — and fourth place — with just two games left to play. Given that their goal differential is already eight worse than Chelsea, their top-four dreams would be dead. On the other hand, it would be the highest remaining hurdle cleared by Chelsea who finish the season with games against Watford and Leicester City.

Bluebirds’ last stand

Fulham v. Cardiff City, 10 a.m. ET, Saturday, on NBCSN [ STREAM ]

Cardiff City, who currently sit 18th in the table and three points adrift of safety, will face 12th-place Crystal Palace and sixth-place Man United in their final two games of the season. It’s a tricky proposition should they need a victory in either game to avoid relegation. But first, a lifeline: a trip to Craven Cottage to take on already-relegated Fulham on Saturday. Would it be impossible for Cardiff to stay up without beating Fulham? Sure, but it doesn’t mean they should willingly go down that route.

Arsenal spiraling toward collapse

Leicester City v. Arsenal, 7 a.m. ET, Sunday, on NBCSN [ STREAM ]

Just a few weeks ago, Arsenal appeared the surging frontrunners to finish third. Tottenham Hotspur had blown a 10-point in a span of two weeks and the Gunners were hitting their late-season stride just in time to reinstate St. Totteringham’s Day. Now, Arsenal are the losers of three of their last four games, including a 3-1 no-show performance against Wolverhampton Wanderers on Wednesday, and no longer hold their destiny in their own hands. Unai Emery‘s side is in grave danger of not only failing to finish above Tottenham, but also of missing the Champions League, for a third straight season.

Report: No money in January for Mourinho

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Jose Mourinho will have to deal with the squad he has for the rest of the season, according to a report the Guardian.

The report states that Tottenham isn’t making any money available for signings in January, meaning that Mourinho won’t have the chance to add to his Spurs squad. Usually, when a new coach comes in, they’re given at least a transfer window to bring in one or two players, especially mid-season, to stabilize the squad.

[READ: Mourinho speaks for the first time as Spurs manager]

It’s certainly an unusual move from Tottenham. It leaves Mourinho in a bad spot in terms of the five first-team players who will be out of contract in June. If any of them, including Jan Vertonghen and Christian Eriksen, leave on transfer, perhaps Tottenham can use those funds towards new signings. However, it’s more likely at this point that all five will finish the season at White Hart Lane and leave, setting up a massive summer for Mourinho.

At the same time, Tottenham has shown financial austerity for the past few seasons, as it struggles to pay back the loans it took to renovate its stadium. Pochettino didn’t make a single signing for the entirety of the 2018-2019 season and while the club broke its transfer record to sign Tanguay Ndombele, there wasn’t investment throughout the squad.

Considering Tottenham’s financial behavior, it does question why Mourinho took the job in the first place. But with his reported eight-figure salary, and the chance to work with Harry Kane, Mourinho may have decided it’s worth it, even if he can’t sign his players and mold the squad in the way he wants.

Looking Ahead: Mourinho’s first 10 games

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Tottenham’s stunning week continued on Wednesday with the appointment of Jose Mourinho as manager.

Taking in his first day of training, Mourinho can now get to grips with not only his squad, but what’s ahead for Spurs. Here’s a look at what Mourinho will be up against in the next two months.

[READ: 5 things Mourinho must do at Tottenham]

Game 1: Tottenham at West Ham, Saturday, Premier League

Mourinho’s first game in charge is a London derby, which is a pretty tough way to start life at the club. Coming on the road, you can expect a packed house, tons of media attention, and possibly a re-energized squad. That’s what Mourinho will be hoping for, anyways.

Sebastian Haller has struggled recently, and with just four goals in 11 Premier League games, he could be looking at this matchup as a way to get back on the scoresheet. It will be up to Mourinho to re-organize a want-away defense.

Game 2: Tottenham v. Olympiakos, Nov. 26, UEFA Champions League

Game 3: Tottenham v. Bournemouth, Nov. 30, Premier League

Game 4: Tottenham at Manchester United, Dec. 4, Premier League

Mourinho only has to wait three weeks before his first trip back to Old Trafford. Even though it’s coming soon, it’s not a guarantee that it will be Mourinho v. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, who is under a lot of pressure himself. Things haven’t improved at Man United much since Mourinho was sacked, and a win for him on the road would be the kind of grudge match he lives for.

Game 5: Tottenham v. Burnley, Dec. 7, Premier League

Game 6: Tottenham at Bayern Munich, Dec. 11, Champions League

If the Champions League stopped today, passed Go and went directly to the knockout rounds, Tottenham would be in. Despite all the Premier League troubles, Spurs have done well enough to stay ahead of Red Star Belgrade and Olympiakos in the standings. Should Tottenham beat Olympiakos in November, and Red Star loses to Bayern Munich, it will be set. However, if Tottenham hasn’t secured a place in the knockout round by then, it may need a result against Bayern at home. That will be one of Mourinho’s biggest tasks moving forward.

Game 7: Tottenham at Wolves, Dec. 15, Premier League

Game 8: Tottenham v. Chelsea, Dec. 22, Premier League

Tottenham opens the busy holiday period against Mourinho’s other Premier League former club, and the place where he made his name in England. At this point, Mourinho will have been with Tottenham for an entire month and if things are going well, Tottenham could challenge Chelsea in this match. If Tottenham remain at its current level, Chelsea could certainly win a match like this on the road at the new White Hart Lane. Another side plot will be Mourinho facing his former star midfielder, Frank Lampard.

Game 9: Tottenham v. Brighton and Hove Albion, Dec. 26, Premier League

Game 10: Tottenham at Norwich City, Dec. 28, Premier League

Mourinho will have to navigate some tough matches, including big six derbies against Chelsea and Man United, plus a trip to Wolverhampton Wanderers. However, it certainly could have been worse for Tottenham. Spurs has five home games, along with matches against Burnley, Bournemouth, Norwich City and Brighton and Hove Albion. Despite 10 games in the rest of 2019, and a busy holiday period, Mourinho has a shot to turn Spurs’ season around and put them in contention for fourth place by May.

UEFA investigates player’s claim of racial abuse in Romania

Getty Images
Leave a comment

NYON, Switzerland (AP) UEFA has called for further investigations into allegations by a Sweden player he was racially abused by Romania fans at a European Championship qualifying game.

After Alexander Isak reported his claim to the match referee last Friday, play in Sweden’s 2-0 win was briefly stopped to broadcast a warning to fans in Bucharest. The stadium will host four Euro 2020 games in June.

[READ: How the USMNT found and kept Sergino Dest]

UEFA says it opened a disciplinary investigation, and also charged Romania’s soccer federation for separate incidents of an alleged “illicit banner” and “illicit chants.” Those charges will be judged on Dec. 12.

Romania faces more severe UEFA action because it was already under one year’s probation for previous incidents of offensive fan behavior.

Only accompanied children were allowed to attend Romania’s home qualifier against Norway last month.

The next UEFA punishment could affect Romania’s next game in the Euro 2020 playoffs round in March.

Report: Austin FC hire Reyna as sporting director

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Months after locking in Josh Wolff as head coach, Austin FC is reportedly on the verge of naming one of MLS’ best sporting directors to the same role.

The Athletic reported on Wednesday that Anthony Precourt’s Austin FC has hired Claudio Reyna from New York City FC to be the expansion club’s new sporting director. It’s the second expansion club that Reyna is working for since he joined NYCFC in 2013 as its first director of soccer operations.

[READ: MLS takes big step with All-Star game update]

If true, it’s a shrewd move by Precourt to bring in a man who knows MLS like the back of his thumb, and to pair him with a former teammate from the U.S. Men’s National Team. Wolff’s spent almost his entire career in professional soccer in MLS too, so the club now has two influential individuals who are knowledgable about the league and it’s various roster mechanisms.

Austin FC doesn’t enter MLS until 2021, so locking in Reyna now gives him more than a year of runway towards building an MLS-ready roster. Precourt has surely seen the best-case scenario – Seattle, Los Angeles FC, Atlanta United – where a team loaded with top-heavy talent and good role players can make a deep playoff run in its expansion season. But he’s likely also seen the worst-case scenarios – look at Minnesota United in the past and FC Cincinnati this year.

Bringing in Reyna certainly makes it more likely that Austin FC’s future will lie in the former category.