5 thoughts on wild PL weekend

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What. A. Weekend.

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The Premier League was back with a bang after the international break as Jose Mourinho was in at Tottenham, Leicester City stay in second and Man City won the big game of the weekend as the edged past Chelsea.

Add VAR drama, late goals galore and a glut of no wins for the home teams and that adds up to one thing: Madness.

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Below are five key takeaways from Saturday and Sunday on Matchweek 13.


Rejuvenated Mourinho keeps it simple at Spurs
It was like he’d never left. 11 months after being fired by Man United, Mourinho replaced his good friend Mauricio Pochettino at Tottenham last week. In his first game in charge Spurs were 3-0 up and should have won by a larger margin than 3-2 (two late goals gave the scoreline an unnecessary gloss for poor West Ham), as Dele Alli played a starring role alongside Lucas Moura, Heung-Min Son and Harry Kane up top.

[ MORE: Mourinho delivers on debut ]

That quartet kept things simple and Mourinho had Harry Winks and Eric Dier as two holding midfielders as Spurs looked solid. Yes, they were playing a West Ham side which is slumping, but they took care of business and Spurs haven’t won away from home in the PL since January. There are signs that Tottenham will have a more ruthless edge going forward and Mourinho’s pragmatism will deliver a better chance of ending their 11-year wait for a trophy.


Pochettino lurking as Solskjaer’s United lucky to draw
As for the man Mourinho replaced at Spurs, Mauricio Pochettino is being linked with the biggest jobs in the world. They don’t come much bigger than Man United and Sir Alex Ferguson and others at the Red Devils are big fans of Poch. United fought back from 2-0 down to go 3-2 up at Sheffield United on Sunday as they failed to turn up for the first 70 minutes then sprung to life. United’s three goalscorers were all academy products as Brandon Williams (19 years old), Mason Greenwood (18) and Marcus Rashford (22) came to the rescue. United should have won the game but Solskjaer brought on a defender for a winger late on to try and shut up shop and that handed the initiative to the blades as Ollie McBurnie grabbed a late equalizer, which is the least Sheffield United deserve. Nobody knew how Man United were leading in stoppage time as they looked disjointed, lacked creativity and Solskjaer had a somber expression throughout. With a talented crop of youngsters coming through it seems like only one man should be trusted with developing their talent and giving United a clear playing identity. It’s not Solskjaer.


VAR drama involves Liverpool once again
So, are the LiVARpool jokes still going around? Ah yes, they are. After tight VAR decisions going their way in their wins against Man City, Leicester City and Chelsea, opposing fans are adamant Jurgen Klopp‘s side are getting all of the luck and the power that be are desperate for them to win the Premier League title. In truth, if they play like that did at Crystal Palace on Saturday, they won’t win anything this season. Liverpool were sloppy in possession, error strewn in defense and had it not been for Dejan Lovren‘s theatrical dive seeing a Palace goal chalked off and Wilf Zaha blazing over late on, Liverpool would have left Selhurst Park with a point, at best. But this game summed up their season so far.

Even the most ardent of Liverpool fans won’t deny they have been far from their best but they’ve found a way to win. Sadio Mane’s shot was tipped onto the post, squirmed across the line and hit the other post as Patrick Van Aanholt failed to clear, then Liverpool’s winner arrived as the ball pin-balled around and fell perfectly for Roberto Firmino to slot home. You make your own luck in this game, and Liverpool are doing just that through gritty, determined displays. Opposing fans can point to VAR, but Liverpool are eight points clear for a reason.


Man City lose Aguero, beat Chelsea as Pulisic struggles
This wasn’t a decent outing for Christian Pulisic as Chelsea’s youngster were held at arms length by a banged-up Man City squad. The USMNT winger showed a few glimpses of attacking intent in the first half but Man City just had that extra bit of class and composure in the final third which won them the game. Chelsea’s run of six-straight PL wins came to an end but Frank Lampard was impressed and believes his team are cutting the gap to the title contenders, even thought they’ve now lost to Liverpool, Man United and Man City. As for the reigning champs, they’ve lost Sergio Aguero for a few weeks at a key stage in the season and the pressure to score goals is now all on Gabriel Jesus. Pep Guardiola‘s men are hanging in there but untimely injuries are seeing them look longingly up to Liverpool who are at the summit and nine points ahead of them. Aguero often comes up big with goals late on in games and City have been involved in plenty of those tight situations in recent months. How much will they miss their all-time leading goalscorer?


Pressure mounts on Silva, Emery
Not many people would have predicted Arsenal to grab a last-gasp point at home against lowly Southampton on Saturday. Fewer would have predicted Everton losing to Norwich. But both happened and that is bad news for Unai Emery and Marco Silva. Both teams, and managers specifically, were booed at the final whistle and Emery admitted he knows he “needs to do better” as the pressure was cranked up a few notches. Had Southampton finished one of their numerous chances, they would have easily beaten Arsenal. The Gunners defense was all over the place and they didn’t deserve the point Alexandre Lacazette‘s late equalizer secured. As for Everton, there is no clear playing style, no grit and no leadership and Silva looks to be on his last legs, as he has done for a while now. Their win away at Saints before the international break papered over the cracks and this defeat against Norwich exposed them.

Hodgson vows to sign new Crystal Palace contract

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Roy Hodgson has revealed that he has been offered a contract extension to remain at Crystal Palace beyond the 2020-21 Premier League season, and also hinted that he is highly likely to accept it.

[ MORE: Mourinho: Top-four without Kane, Son would be “something incredible” ]

Following a period of turmoil and instability which saw them drop dangerously close to the relegation zone prior to his arrival in 2017, Hodgson has steadied the ship and guided the Eagles to 11th- and 12th-place finishes in his first two seasons and has them sitting just a point out of 12th with a dozen games to go this season. At no point in his tenure has Palace flirted with relegation, and that’s apparently enough to earn a new deal to remain in charge — quotes from Sky Sports:

“The club have presented me with a contract and although the chairman has been away this week I’ve had a cursory glance through it. It all looks fine to me so I am pretty certain that at some point soon we’ll sit down and get it signed.

“If I am going to stay, it will be because I believe funds will be made available because we’ve had the intention to improve the squad and the team for a while now.

“We all realize you can’t make improvements to the actual team without spending some money. But I would never make those type of demands, because you can’t make any guarantees in the transfer market.

“All you can do is have good intention and if I signed for another year, I would sign because I believed the intentions are true and that something will happen going into the next season.”

As for the transfer situation, that’s something that’ll need to be sorted out in very short order if Palace plan to maintain their current place in the PL’s hierarchy, otherwise they’ll learn a harsh — and quick — lesson about standing still while everyone else is moving forward.

Mourinho: Top-four without Kane, Son would be ‘something incredible’

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Jose Mourinho fancies himself either as a realist or a master of mind games — you be the judge, based on your own level of love or hate for the Portuguese manager — as Tottenham Hotspur embark upon their final dozen games of the 2019-20 Premier League season.

[ MORE: Premier League Preview: Chelsea v. Tottenham Hotspur ]

Speaking ahead of Saturday’s trip to Stamford Bridge where he’ll take on his former club Chelsea (Watch live, 7:30 a.m. ET on NBCSN and NBCSports.com), Mourinho attempted to put into perspective the level of heroics that will be required for Tottenham to finish in the top-four.

Perhaps he has a point, given the long-term injuries to Harry Kane and Son Heung-min, forwards who account for 20 of Spurs’ 43 PL goals this season and who will also miss the majority, if not all, of the rest of the season — quotes from the Guardian:

“Tottenham without Harry or Sonny, without one of them, doesn’t win a match since 2014. That means a lot. That means that Sonny and Harry score the majority of goals that Tottenham scores. This season was so, so negatively special that we are going to be without them both at the same time for a lot of matches.

“If we manage to finish top four it’s something incredible. Incredible achievement for the boys. So we have to give everything we have.”

As for their chances of doing, so? Well, let’s just say Mourinho is more than happy to pile the pressure onto others and divert it away from his own team, as he has routinely done throughout his career — quotes from Sky Sports:

“At this moment, Tottenham, Manchester United, Arsenal, Sheffield United, Wolverhampton, Everton — we are the underdogs.

“We have ambitions to be there but we are one, two, three points behind Chelsea, so they have an advantage to all of us. That’s obvious. It’s not a big advantage but it is an advantage.

“Chelsea, in this moment, are favorites for the fourth position, considering Leicester has nine points more at this stage of the season.”

Over the course of their next nine PL games, Spurs will face all six sides currently within five points of fourth place. They will almost certainly be without both Kane and Son for the vast majority of those critical six-pointers.

USWNT pushed in depositions: Could they beat the German men?

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Carli Lloyd was pushed over and over on differences between women and men.

[ MORE: USWNT seek over $66 million in damages from U.S. Soccer ]

“Do you think the women’s national team could beat the German men’s team?” U.S. Soccer Federation lawyer Noah Finkel asked during a Dec. 20 deposition.

“I’m not sure,” the two-time FIFA Player of the Year replied.

Finkel inquired about a 2015 email interview Lloyd conducted through her agent’s assistant with the website Sportskeeda.

“You wrote men are faster and stronger, right?” Finkel probed.

“Yeah, if you take those away, yeah, it would be a contest,” Lloyd said.

Again and again, members of the champion U.S. women’s team were pushed to detail distinctions between their sport, which they dominate, and the men’s game, where the Americans struggle.

Lawyers for the USSF are trying to show it’s OK to pay the women differently than the men because the competition is different. The sides made excerpts of depositions public in court filings Thursday night.

“The tone during depositions is reflective of the kind of condescension that many USSF officials employ when talking to the players about pay and workplace conditions,” said Molly Levinson, spokeswoman for the players, “including the plainly disrespectful and sexist attitudes from USSF and their representatives during CBA negotiations when they refused to offer anything close to equal pay.”

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The women sued last year, alleging the USSF violated Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Equal Pay Act of 1963 in reaching what they say is an inferior collective bargaining agreement with the women than the deal struck with the American men. They are seeking more than $66 million in damages.

The federation maintains the women have many benefits the men lack, including guaranteed salaries, health insurance, paid child-care assistance, pregnancy and parental leave, severance pay and access to a 401(k) retirement plan. Men get paid by the game and tournament, most earning the majority of their income from their club.

Reigning FIFA Player of the Year Megan Rapinoe was questioned about her response in an interview she gave to Pod Save America in which she said: “Our pay structure is different. We play different games. We’re different rankings in the world. Like, it’s just apples to oranges.”

The USSF said that from fiscal year 2009 through fiscal year 2019, the women’s national team had gross revenue of $101.3 million for 238 games, an average of $425,446, and the men grossed $185.7 million for 191 matches, an average of $972,147. The women had a $27.6 million net loss over 11 years and the men lost $3.13 million.

“The international soccer environment in which the MNT players compete is far more competitive by many measures than that in which plaintiffs compete,” the USSF said in one of its papers filed with the court. “The MNT players have lower odds of succeeding in the face of such greater competition. In short, MNT players must achieve more and/or better results against tougher competition in order to qualify for, and succeed in, tournament competition.”

Barring a settlement, the trial is scheduled to start May 5 in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles. The women’s five-year labor deal runs through 2021 while the men play under the terms of a contract that expired Dec. 31.

[ MORE: In the Mixed Zone with JPW: Episode 1 ]

During her deposition on Jan. 15, former U.S. coach Jill Ellis testified she was told the men got chartered flights at times and the women didn’t. The USSF spent about $10.7 million on hotels for the men and approximately $7.3 milllion on the women during the fiscal years 2012-20. Air travel was about $6.3 million for the women during that period and $14.3 million for the men, many of whom play in Europe. The USSF increased first- and business-class travel for the women in 2017.

Speaking during her Dec. 20 deposition, Lloyd talked about personally training with the Medford Strikers’ under-18 boys team in New Jersey.

“It’s different in the sense that men are bigger, stronger, faster. That’s their makeup. There’s no — there’s no denying science in that regard,” she said. “But I am the most skillful player there. So if you take their speed and athleticism and their strength away, it’s the same game.”

Former USSF President Sunil Gulati, speaking during a Dec. 17 deposition, used a comparison with an NBA star to point out differences.

“LeBron James doesn’t get a bonus for getting 15 points and for the Lakers finishing out of the playoffs,” he said. “The expectations for him are different based on who they’re playing against, what – who he is, what the level is.”

Premier League Preview: Chelsea v. Tottenham Hotspur

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  • Chelsea (41 points) sit 4th in PL table
  • Spurs (40) chasing, up to 5th
  • Last meeting: Spurs 0-2 Chelsea

Jose Mourinho is set to make his latest triumphant return to Stamford Bridge, this time for the first time as the manager of Tottenham Hotspur, one of Chelsea’s bitter London rivals, in the first fixture of the Premier League weekend on Saturday (Watch live, 7:30 a.m. ET on NBCSN and NBCSports.com).

Not only does the Mourinho storyline carry significant weight ahead of Saturday’s showdown at the Bridge, so too does the two sides’ increasingly tight battle for a top-four finish. As recently as Jan. 17, Chelsea enjoyed a nine-point lead on Tottenham, but the Blues’ current run of just one win from their last six PL games has seen that advantage shrink to a single point with the very real possibility of flipping two points in the opposite direction once the full-time whistle blows. On the other hand, Spurs would already be miles clear if not for dropping a combined seven points from three games against the current 12th-, 19th- and 20th-place sides in recent weeks.

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Both Chelsea and Spurs are currently enduring injury crises which have just about crippled their respective attacking units. Frank Lampard‘s side has been without Christian Pulisic since New Year’s Day, while both Callum Hudson-Odoi (hamstring) Tammy Abraham (ankle) also missed this week’s defeat to Manchester United. As for Mourinho’s selection issues, Harry Kane (hamstring) has been out since Jan. 1 and will continue to be sideline for at least two more months, and now Son Heung-min could miss the rest of the season after breaking his arm during his two-goal outing in the dramatic victory over Aston Villa last weekend. Son had scored at least one goal in each of his last five appearances (all competitions).

Spurs have scored 43 PL goals this season; Kane and Son combined for 20 between the two of them. Dele Alli, who sits just behind them with seven, has scored just once in his last seven league games and 12 games across all competitions — coincidentally, Alli’s drought began one game before Kane tore his hamstring — after enjoying a red-hot resurgence (four goals in three games) on the back of Mourinho’s appointment. To compound matters, Spurs have had 48 fewer hours to recover and prepare for Saturday’s early kickoff, with Chelsea playing Man United in league play on Monday and the north London side suffering a narrow defeat to RB Leipzig in the Champions League on Wednesday.

Injuries/suspensions

Chelsea: OUT – Christian Pulisic (groin), Callum Hudson-Odoi (hamstring), N’Golo Kante (leg), Ruben Loftus-Cheek (fitness); QUESTIONABLE: Tammy Abraham (ankle), Andreas Christensen (face)

Spurs: OUT – Harry Kane (hamstring), Son Heung-min (arm), Moussa Sissoko (knee), Juan Foyth (groin)


Projected lineups

Chelsea: Caballero — James, Zouma, Rudiger, Azpilicueta — Jorginho, Mount, Kovacic — Willian, Pedro, Abraham

Spurs: Lloris — Aurier, Sanchez, Aldeweireld, Davies — Winks, Ndombele — Lo Celso, Alli, Bergwijn — Moura


What they’re saying

Lampard, on various injured players: “Christian Pulisic is still not fit. I can’t give you an exact date. It’s a difficult injury and we’re working on that. … Tammy has trained the last two days probably at about 70 percent having not trained much recently. He’s in the squad but I’ll have to make a decision on whether he’s fit. … N’Golo is not fit. It’s a muscle injury, similar to the one he came off with against Arsenal recently. Hopefully three weeks, something around that.”

Mourinho, on returning to Stamford Bridge: “To go back to play against Chelsea is the same as to play against West Ham or Crystal Palace. It’s the same for me, exactly the same. The situation is clear, I’m here for about three months, in three months I don’t think about myself, I think about the club, I think about the players and I think about the effort that the players made to be in this position now. We were 12 points behind fourth place. I remember in my first week speaking with the players about not having targets, let’s go match after match and get as many points as possible, because if we were thinking about being 12 points behind, we would lose immediately the motivation that we needed to try to climb such a difficult mountain.”


Prediction

Throw out the injuries to some of this game’s brightest attacking stars along with the fitness and fatigue concerns, because Chelsea v. Spurs almost always delivers a thrilling, goal-filled game. There will be at least three goals, including a late winner to Chelsea.