Steven Caulker

Associated Press

Bus carrying Turkish club crashes, killing Czech international Sural

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A mini-bus carrying a number of squad members from Turkish club Alanyaspor crashed just outside the club’s home city of Alanya on Sunday, killing 28-year-old Czech international Josef Sural.

The bus was returning from the club’s match against Kayserispor when the driver reportedly fell asleep at the wheel.

Former QPR and Cardiff City defender Steven Caulker was also reportedly aboard the bus, one of six players other than Sural on board, but none of them were seriously harmed. Former Newcastle striker Papiss Cisse was also aboard the bus, according to Turkish news reports. Also reportedly aboard the bus was Angolan winger Djalma Campos, Brazilian defenders Baiano and Welinton, and Ghanian international Isaac Sackey.

Sural owned 20 caps for the Czech Republic and was a member of their Euro 2016 squad. He scored his only international goal against the Netherlands in a 3-2 win during Euro 2016 qualification.

“Our Czech footballer Josef Sural was gravely injured when our private minibus carrying seven of our footballers had an accident coming back from an away game in Kayseri,” the club posted in a tweet. “Despite the Alanya Anadolu private hospital’s best efforts, Sural couldn’t be saved. May he rest in peace.”

The 28-year-old had just joined Alanyaspor in January, his first foray abroad after spending his entire career inside the Czech professional ranks playing for Sparta Praha, Slovan Liberec, and Zbojovka Brno. He made three starts since joining but was mostly used as a substitute, and was an unused substitute in the 1-1 draw with Kayserispor on Sunday.

Czech FA president Martin Malik said, “I want to express my deepest sympathy to my family and friends. Pepa was a humble man who we will all miss very much. We’ll never forget you.”

TRANSFER GRADES: How did each Premier League team fare in January?

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Below is a look at how each Premier League team fared during the 2016 January transfer window.

[ MORE: Latest transfer news

With plenty of ins and outs this month, it’s safe to say some did better business than others.

Do you agree with these grades?

TEAM GRADE
source:  A- Newcastle: Adding Shelvey and Townsend for $17.3 million each was pricey but worth it from the top spenders in January. Saivet will add competition and grabbing Doumbia on loan is a gamble which could save them from relegation. Brave, and a very good, window.
source:  B+ Watford: The Hornets kept splashing the cash. Bringing in Pantilimon, Suarez and Amrabat made their squad stronger and adding two prospects then loaning them out on Deadline Day. Very good way for the PL new boys.
 

source:

 B+ Stoke City: Mark Hughes and Stoke kept up their trend of surprising transfers late on in the window. Giannelli Imbula arrived on Deadline Day for a club record $26 million and will strengthen them considerably in midfield. The Potter look to keep pushing for the top six.
source:  B Bournemouth: The Cherries added plenty of bodies in attack, which is what they needed. Benik Afobe and Lewis Grabban have settled quickly, while Juan Iturbe looks dangerous. A top defensive addition would’ve made this window better.
source:  B Norwich City: Like Bournemouth, the newly-promoted Canaries added plenty of numbers as they aim to avoid the drop. Naismith and Bamford arrived up top, while Klose and Pinto arrived at the back. Promising youngster James Maddison joined late on as Alex Neil bought well.
source:  B Everton: The Toffees were very quiet up until the last day and then they signed Oumar Niasse from Lokomotiv Moscow for $20 million. Perhaps Roberto Martinez should’ve spent more on new defenders but Niasse will add goals and assists and is the Russian Premier League’s reigning player of the year. Tidy.
source:  C+ Sunderland: Kone, Khazri, Kirchhoof and N’Doye all arrived, while Sam Allardyce did some necessary trimming to their squad. Not a bad window but will the new additions be enough to keep them up?
source:  C+ West Brom: The main aim in this window was not to sell Saido Berahino to a relegation rival and chairman Jeremy Peace achieved that. Alex Pritchard coming in will add some trickery in midfield.
source:  C+ Crystal Palace: Emmanuel Adebayor arrived on a short-term deal and could deliver the goals to push Palace into the top six. With his temperament, he’s a gamble, but Palace need goals to keep their good start to the season going.
source:  C+ West Ham: The Hammers brought in Emmanuel Emenike on loan to help push them into the top five and his goals will help. Adding Sam Byram at right back is also a shrewd acquisition.
source:  C+ Leicester City: The Foxes were hoping to get a move for Loic Remy or Ahmed Musa over the line late in the window but the title-chasers did add Demarai Gray and Daniel Amarety during January. They also kept hold of Jamie Vardy and Riyad Mahrez.
source:  C Southampton: Saints had two aims in the window: keep hold of Sadio Mane and Victor Wanyama. Check. Add a striker. Check. A $6 million move for Charlie Austin could be the bargain of the season. Job done for Ronald Koeman.
source:  C- Swansea City: Leroy Fer joined on loan and striker Alberto Paloschi arrived from Chievo in Italy. Swansea fans will be concerned with the hole Jonjo Shelvey has left. A relegation battle now beckons. Can this squad cope?
source:  C- Manchester City: Not a lot going on at all for City… well, on the playing side at least. With Pellegrini confirming he’s out in the summer and Guardiola confirmed as his replacement, pretty simple to expect no ins or outs.
source:  D Liverpool: Steven Caulker arriving on loan was as good as it got for Liverpool, plus youngster Marko Grujic arrived. The pursuit of Alex Teixeira turned into a saga and Shakhtar Donestk wanted $75 million for the Brazilian. It is likely Jurgen Klopp will go back in for him this summer when his price drops.
source:  D Manchester United: Like Liverpool, a little disappointing for United. They added nobody and you have to think someone like Berahino would make a difference between now and the end of the season. Maybe Louis Van Gaal has spent all the cash?
source:  D Arsenal: Mohamed Elneny was Arsenal’s only signing and they let Yaya Sanogo and Mathieu Debuchy go on loan. This was a big chance for the Gunners to add some real depth and perhaps another attacking option to breath new life into their title charge.
source:  D Chelsea: The Blues were trying to move on Falcao and Remy until the end, and many Chelsea fans were hoping for a new striker (Pato joined on loan but is more of a winger and unlikely to feature often) to ease the pressure on Costa. USMNT youngster Miazga arrived which was big news Stateside. That said, the biggest news in January from Stamford Bridge was John Terry not being handed a new deal and he will leave this summer.
source:  D- Tottenham:  A real missed opportunity for Spurs. Berahino, again, would’ve made sense and with Jan Vertonghen going down they look a little short at the back. Just five points off the top, why didn’t Spurs board back Pochettino and give him some money to spend?
source:  F Aston Villa: A very, very bad window for Remi Garde. No new arrivals means the Villans will struggle on between now and the end of the season. How did this happen? Is owner Randy Lerner already resigned to relegation?

 

Premier League Playback: Five horse title race ready to roll

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FIVE-HORSE TITLE RACE

And then there were, uh, five?

Hardly the most exclusive statement, but there now seems to be only five Premier League teams with a realistic chance of winning the title this season.

Arsenal, Leicester City, Manchester City, Tottenham Hotspur and even Manchester United must be considered as title contenders following a busy week which saw two matchdays crammed in following a hectic festive scheduled and the FA Cup third round last weekend.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ]

Heavy legs have led to plenty of hopes and dreams being dashed at this stage of the season in the past but the aforementioned quintet have proved, so far, they have staying power. Just.

Sure, all five are sticking around, but nobody is taking this league by the scruff of the neck and saying “do you know what? I really want to win this.” Nobody.

All season long just when we’ve expected Manchester City, then Arsenal or Man United to kick on they’ve faltered. The Gunners drew twice this week, even City were held at home by Everton but reminded us how good they are by battering Palace 4-0. Leicester stunned Spurs with a late winner at White Hart Lane then drew at bottom club Aston Villa. The dark horse here is Spurs. Mauricio Pochettino‘s side are consistent and even in their defeat to the Foxes last Wednesday they deserved more. They created chances galore but Kasper Schmeichel was in inspired form, Harry Kane hit the bar and Erik Lamela had an off day with all of their best chances. They made amends for that by blowing away Sunderland 4-1 on Saturday and it could have been more.

Spurs are the team to watch and if injuries are kind to them the young squad will have no fear. With 16 games to go, there are still 48 points to play for but it seems highly likely that we will have one of the lowest points tally for a PL champion in league history.

[ MORE: Latest Premier League standings

The fact that Manchester United’s manager Louis Van Gaal, who oversaw a spell where his team went six games without a PL win throughout November and December amid drab displays and rumors of him being fired, now thinks United can win it all sums up the madness.

Speaking after United’s 1-0 win against bitter rivals Liverpool at Anfield on Sunday — an inspired display from David De Gea and a clinical finish from Wayne Rooney papered over the fact that Liverpool had by far the better opportunities — Van Gaal was bullish as the Red Devils are now four unbeaten.

“We have a lot of matches still to go,” Van Gaal said. “We have to continue, which is not so easy. But we can do it because we show every week we can do it… The gap is seven points. We can overcome that so that’s what I’m thinking about. “

It’s going to be one heck of a ride between now and the end of the season as five teams have cut themselves off from the rest. Now, will Man City’s mammoth squad be the difference? Can Arsenal’s acquisition of Cech led to a title? Will Harry Kane catch fire to lead Spurs to glory? Or will Leicester’s sensational season spring the most unlikely title triumph in PL history?

LIVERPOOL TREADING WATER

Premier League Schedule – Week 22

Result Recap & Highlights
A. Villa 1-1 Leicester Recap, watch here
B’mouth 3-0 Norwich Recap, watch here
Chelsea 3-3 Everton Recap, watch here
Liverpool 0-1 Man Utd Recap, watch here
Man City 4-0 Palace Recap, watch here
N’castle 2-1 West Ham Recap, watch here
Saints 3-0 WBA Recap, watch here
Stoke 0-0 Arsenal Recap, watch here
Swansea 1-0 Watford Recap, watch here
Tottenham 4-1 S’land Recap, watch here

One team well and truly out of the title race, or even the top four race at this stage, is Liverpool.

As aforementioned, Jurgen Klopp‘s side created plenty of chances on Sunday in their big derby game and the link up play between Roberto Firmino, Adam Lallana and Emre Can was mesmeric at times, especially in the first half as United couldn’t get near them. But (and you knew there was a but coming) the wasteful nature of their display came back to haunt them.

The stats below tells you all you need to know. Also, Steven Caulker came on as an emergency forward with Divock Origi, Danny Ings and Daniel Sturridge out injured, which further reinforces their offensive issues.

That’s compounded by the fact that Klopp doesn’t seem to fancy Christian Benteke and can’t find a way to fit him into their high-pressing system, which means the Belgian (Liverpool’s top scorer with seven goals this season) who cost them $45 million this summer is a rather expensive bit-part player. Getting the best out of him in Klopp’s system, and getting Sturridge back fit, is a must if they’re going to have any chance of finishing in the top four. Even that seems like a long-shot now.

A win on Sunday would have placed Liverpool just a point behind United. The defeat means they trail the Red Devils by six and the top four by eight. That’s not insurmountable but it is tough, especially with Klopp working with players he didn’t recruit and a long list of injuries decimating his options in attack and at center back. I’m not making excuses for him. That’s fact.

Klopp, 48, is facing the biggest challenge of his managerial career and three months in you don’t get the sense that he’s bitten off more than he can chew, but you do have to admit that he’ll need longer to digest the task at hand and chew through the bloated and jumbled squad he’s been left with.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule

For those Liverpool fans thinking it will be an easy ride back to the top four, Klopp has a message for you.

“We want to collect points and take everything that we can, there is no doubt about it. We know about our responsibility,” Klopp said. “The space is pretty big between us and the top four. If we want to go there we have to win games. That’s the only way.”

SOLUTION FOR FUMING MARTINEZ

Roberto Martinez was apoplectic with rage following John Terry‘s late, late equalizer from an offside position on Saturday.

Not only did Chelsea’s skipper score when two-yards offside to snatch the Blues a 3-3 draw after Ramiro Funes Mori had given Everton the lead in the 91st minute, but he had done so nearly a minute after the seven minutes of stoppage time were meant to be up.

Speaking after the game, here’s what Martinez said.

So, Roberto, what about having a countdown clock like they do in NBA, NFL or any of the American sports?

I understand Martinez’s comments about the confusion regarding how much stoppage time is to be played and there is a huge amount of ambiguity present as the official rule states that when the number of stoppage time minutes is shown on the board by the fourth official at the end of 90 minutes then that is the “minimum amount” which will be added on. In this case, Funes Mori scored in stoppage time and celebrated for over a minute so an extra minute was added on and Terry scored in that. Simple. However, changing the clock to count down and stopping it as the game goes may not please the traditionalists but it will bring fairness. Perhaps another reform for FIFA can look at.

SWANS SPREAD THEIR WINGS

“Buongiorno Francesco Guidolin,” will be the phrase rippling through the cobbled streets of Swansea over the next week or two as the 60-year-old Italian coach was appointed as head coach until the end of the season in a bizarre turn of events on Monday.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays

Having already appointed club legend Alan Curtis in caretaker charge until the end of the campaign the Swans released a statement claiming that Guidolin “will have the final say on team selection” and both he and Curtis will work together to keep them in the PL between now and the end of the season. The former Udinese manager, who took an unfashionable Italian team to third-place in Serie A and the UEFA Champions League, has no experience coaching in England and already looked an edge as he watched on from the stands at the Liberty Stadium on Monday with his new side beating Watford 1-0 for just their second Premier League win in 12 games. 

Guidolin will have his work cut out but the Swans are out of the bottom three and have given themselves a fighting chance of surviving. Now, it’s up to Guidolin to galvanize the team and try to get his ideas across in the next four months. It’s a gamble from a team who are used to giving young managers a chance and playing attractive soccer. The Swans are in a relegation scrap and it won’t be pretty but perhaps it was pretty smart to get an experienced head in to help steady the ship and lead them to safety.

JONES THE FAN

As an aside to Man United’s top four aspirations getting a big boost by beating Liverpool away on Sunday, three of their players were also in the thick of things in the away end at Anfield.

The injured trio of Michael Carrick, Marcos Rojo and most notably Phil Jones, all stood with United’s fans and the scenes when Wayne Rooney’s late winning-goal went in were memorable.

Take a look at the video below to see Jones in with United’s fans celebrating the game-winner. Usually injured players won’t travel to away stadiums with their teams but seeing those three do so and stand as one with the supporters was refreshing.

Who says PL superstars and the fans aren’t close anymore? Not on this showing. Brilliant, just brilliant.

TRANSFER TICKER

Here’s a look at the major transfers happening in the Premier League over the past week, as clubs are starting to get busy with less than two weeks of the January transfer window remaining.

Some real bargains in here who are already having an impact on their new teams with Shelvey shinning on debut for Newcastle and Afobe opening his Bournemouth account, plus Arsenal finally have some depth in holding midfield with Elneny arriving and Saints got a steal by snapping up Austin.

Charlie Austin to Southampton from QPR – $6.5 million

Jonjo Shelvey to Newcastle United from Swansea – $18 million

Nordin Amrabat to Watford from Malaga – $10.2 million

Timm Klose to Norwich from Wolfsburg – $13 million

Mohamed Elneny to Arsenal from Basel – $7.5 million

Lewis Grabban to Bournemouth from Norwich – $12 million

Benik Afobe to Bournemouth from Wolverhampton – $14 million

Henri Saivet to Newcastle from Bordeaux – $7.5 million

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.

Three things we learned from Manchester United’s huge win vs. Liverpool

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UNITED FINDING BALANCE

Following their 3-3 draw away at Newcastle in midweek there was a sense that Manchester United’s approach of dominating possession without creating clear-cut chances was a thing of the past. Yeah, about that.

[ MORE: Player ratings for both teams

On Sunday at Anfield against Liverpool, Louis Van Gaal‘s side failed to register a single shot in the first half as they eased themselves into the game and once again failed to dominate possession but grabbed the 1-0 win they so desperately wanted. Against Newcastle they looked more potent in attack on the counter, but looked dodgy at the back. Despite struggling to cope with Liverpool’s interchanging front quintet in the first half and at the start of the second, United looked more solid in defense — with the brilliant David De Gea pulling off two superb stops in the second half and one in the first — and when the chance to grab a huge three points presented itself their in-form skipper and talisman pounced to bury their only shot on target.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ]

Wayne Rooney has now scored in four-straight games and has five goals across those outings after going six games without a goal for the Red Devils. The last time the lad from Liverpool — a lifelong Everton fan who grew up just a few miles from Anfield — scored at Liverpool for United it was 2005 and his side won 1-0. Lightning struck twice as the goal was also Rooney’s 176th goal for United in the Premier League, which is the most by any individual player for one club in league history.

It’s no surprise that Rooney’s return to form has coincided with United finding a better balance between defense and attack. Lambasted for months due to their boring play in midfield and attack, LVG is finally getting the balance right. For most of the game on Sunday it wasn’t pretty but it was certainly steadier than their midweek draw at Newcastle and the three points takes them to withing touching distance of the top four following four games without defeat.

FLUIDITY FLUMMOXES UNITED

The flexibility of Liverpool’s 4-2-3-1 formation flummoxed Manchester United for most of the game on Sunday with runners from midfield getting in-behind and jostling with United’s defenders far too often. Lucas Leiva, the type of player made for derby battles like this, clipped over a perfect ball in the 10th minute for Adam Lallana to run on to but the English midfielder finished tamely as De Gea saved and Roberto Firmino‘s follow-up skimmed the post and went wide. Lallana, 27, gets into great positions but just doesn’t score enough goals. That incident summed him up. Jordan Henderson also went close again in the first half as more lovely interplay between himself, Lallana and Firmino saw him drag his shot wide of the far post. Throughout the first half United just couldn’t get to grips with the fluidity and movement of Liverpool’s midfield and Firmino ghosting between a false nine position and out wide.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ]

Morgan Schneiderlin and Maroune Fellaini were camped on the edge of their own box and in the second half things didn’t improve for the Red Devils. Firmino and Lallana combined to set up Emre Can and his low shot flicked De Gea’s leg and squirmed wide as the Kop urged it in.

In the end, Liverpool had to resort to Plan B and bring in Christian Benteke — and then Steven Caulker in an emergency role — who nodded down balls and caused a nuisance of himself in the final 10 minutes but to no avail. As you can see from the stat above, scoring goals remains a problem for Jurgen Klopp‘s side despite all of their ingenuity and endeavor in the final third. Daniel Sturridge returning to fitness is key if they’re going to finish the season strong to try and claim a top four spot and win some silverware in the cup competitions. Liverpool’s inventiveness was impressive but their wasteful nature, once again, was not.

TOP FOUR DREAMS HEADING IN OPPOSITE DIRECTIONS

Yes, there are still 15 games to go this season but on this showing both teams seem to be thinking about finishing in the top four, rather than busting a gut to do it. United are now just two points off fourth-place Tottenham Hotspur, while Liverpool are now eight points behind. With Spurs, Leicester City and even the likes of Stoke City and Crystal Palace around them continuing to push on, these perennial giants of English soccer can’t afford to sit back and drop points. This victory for United will no doubt breath new life into their campaign while also handing Liverpool a reality check.

Despite the Red Devils coming out on top, just, both teams must take more initiative going forward. With both Klopp and Louis van Gaal under pressure to return these huge clubs to past glories (more on that in the video above) the time is now. Finishing in the top four is certainly not out of the question for either club, especially when they both get their full-strength defenses back, but as is the case in many of these battles between bitter rivals, we got a slow burner which never truly ignited as only one early flash-point occurred between Lucas and Fellaini and that was that. Both teams seemed to be scared to lose until United, finally, stepped things up in the second half.

[ MORE: Latest Premier League standings

At this point of the season, where the halfway point is in the rear-view mirror and the Spring will arrive quickly, time is of the essence and United seemed more desperate and delivered Van Gaal’s fourth win from four PL games against their bitter rivals. That should buy him some more time as the long-term concerns over their style of play will evaporate as the red half of Manchester revels in their latest win over Liverpool.

Three things we learned from Liverpool vs. Arsenal

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DEFENSIVE ISSUES COST BOTH TEAMS

In a game with plenty of goals it is obvious that there was both great attacking play and defending that left a lot to be desired. Yeah, check both those boxes.

Jurgen Klopp will perhaps be the more disappointed as his side let two leads slip in the first half and coughed up a third in the second. Liverpool’s defensive injury woes have been well documented with Klopp having to move to bring in Steven Caulker on loan this week as Dejan Lovren and Martin Skrtel are out injured, plus Kolo Toure and Mamadou Sakho were rushed back for this clash. Still, the way Arsenal cut through Liverpool’s defense at times was worrying. 

[ RECAP – Liverpool 3-3 Arsenal

For Arsenal’s first goal nobody tracked Aaron Ramsey‘s third-man run and he slotted home coolly, then an in-swinging corner caught out Simon Mignolet and Olivier Giroud flicked home to make it 2-2. Giroud then turned Sakho too easily and left Toure on his backside as he slotted home Arsenal’s third, with Klopp holding his head in his hands. 

Arsenal — who spurned the chance to stretch their lead at the top and are now level with Leicester and only three points ahead of Man City — were also guilty of defensive mistakes, dwelling on the ball which saw Henderson and Milner snap it up and fed Firmino for his second goal. The Gunners also failed to react quickly to loose balls for Firmino’s first and Joe Allen‘s late equalizer, with Mikel Arteta losing Allen who volleyed home in stoppage time to send Anfield, and Klopp, wild.

LIVERPOOL’S SPIRIT SHINES THROUGH

Klopp’s wild celebrations when Allen’s equalizer went in — the German charged down the touchline and punched the air with delight as the snow started to get thicker on Merseyside — and the team getting together as one to thank the fans at the Kop at the final whistle was reminiscent of a side scoring a late goal to stave off relegation. That’s just the way things are at Anfield these days. Liverpool didn’t put in their best display by a long stretch but they did show plenty of passion and dug in to grind out a draw when it mattered.

It it still too early to say whether Klopp’s masterplan is slotting into place. He is in his first transfer window as Liverpool boss, is unlikely to get the players he wants until the summer and his philosophy and high-pressing style has been tough to implement with so many injuries. Whatever Liverpool is currently lacking in technical ability and tactical understanding they’re making up for it with pure passion and determination. When you have Klopp in charge, that’s inevitable.

FIRMINO, GIROUD PROVIDE CLASS

The poor defending and relentless passion aside, Roberto Firmino and Olivier Giroud both delivered moments of sheer class.

Firmino’s second goal was a beauty, watch it in the video above, as the Brazilian bent in a superb strike to put the Reds 2-1 up. He is beginning to consistently put in displays which excite Liverpool’s fans and despite his silly celebration for his first goal and getting booked for removing his shirt, Klopp will be delighted with his display up front as he preferred him to the bulking, yet sometimes predictable, Christian Benteke.

“You have to speak about Roberto Firmino and both his goals were brilliant and he played for the whole time really good,” Klopp said afterwards.

As for Giroud, he has his critics but you have to admire that he not only had the quality to stick both Sakho and Toure on their backsides before scoring Arsenal’s third goal but also got stuck in and took the elbows to the heads and knees to the back and got up each time. He led the line superbly and should’ve had a hat trick as, predictably, he did have a huge moment to forget as he somehow missed from three yards out as he slid in at the Kop end. That miss will go down as one of the worst of the season but the clever flick for his first and the spin and finish for his second prove his classy movement and finishing ability is to be admired.