Kevin Phillips

Quick Six: Liverpool inches closer, Moyes’ reception, and the rest of the headlines from the BPL weekend

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1. CHELSEA LOSES CONTROL OF TITLE DESTINY

Before we could build the hype for Chelsea’s trip to Liverpool – a match that had the potential to decide this year’s title – an unlikely antagonist intervened. Dormant for most of the season, Sunderland decided to wake up, first taking an unlikely point from Manchester City before pulling the upset at Stamford Bridge.

This was more than your any given sunday-type scenario. José Mourinho had gone 77 Premier League matches without a loss at the Bridge. With City having lost at Anfield, the Blues’ title destiny was back under their control. The season was developing to fit the story England wanted – their favorite manager’s triumphant return.

Instead, after the Black Cats’ 2-1 win in London, two other narratives are taking over. With every result, the Liverpool story is taking hold. At some point, perhaps after Sunday in Anfield, we’ll start talking about this race as if it’s over, but if it were Manchester City, United, or Chelsea in first (a team that had won a recent title), we might already crowned a champion. That Liverpool hasn’t been here before makes us more cautious.

Sunderland’s is the other story taking hold. For most of the season, Gus Poyet’s side has had two matches in hand, games that have given fans reason for hope. But those wishes were overshadowed by form that had left the team winless since Feb. 1.

Now, after a week in which the Black Cats took four points from the league’s second and third place teams, survival is more than hypothetical. Still holding a match in hand, Sunderland’s one win from safety.

2. Mourinho changes up his interview game

What would a Quick Six be without mocking our fascination with José Mourinho quotes, though this week, the Special One decided to change things up. Rather than weaving an obviously false, self-serving view of the Premier League world, the manager’s frustration took over. After referee Mike Dean awarded Sunderland a late, controversial penalty, Mourinho elected to congratulate him (as well as everybody else he could think of) rather than risk a fine.

Seemingly innumerable times this season, this space has asked we bother listening to José Mourinho at all. We have our answer. For all the fantasy he projects in his typical post-match interviews, something clever is always one question away.

Perhaps full sarcasm isn’t the most original response, but in the wake of Saturday’s loss, it told us a lot about Mourinho’s mindset. In that way, it may have been his most useful interview of the season.

3. Suárez enters the 30 club; Sterling steals the show

Robin van Persie. Cristiano Ronaldo. Thierry Henry. Kevin Phillips. Alan Shearer. Andy Cole. They’re the six players who had reached 30 goals in a Premier League season. After of Sunday’s game at Carrow Road, there’s a seventh on the list. Luis Suárez, with three matches to play, has joined what’s proved to be an elite club.

Despite the milestone, Suárez found himself playing second fiddle during Liverpool’s 3-2 win at Norwich City. With two goals and assist, Raheem Sterling gave a Man of the Match-caliber performance, one that made up for any slack left in the absence of Daniel Sturridge. Up to nine goals on the season, the 19-year-old will likely be the team’s fourth double-digit scorer.

It’s a symptom of the progress the Reds have made this season – a testament to what Brendan Rodgers has done with his squad. In recent seasons, the Reds had one or two players you could envision in a table-of-the-table squad. Now they are a top of the table squad, one that’s capable of creating 30 goals for Luis Suárez, another 20 for Daniel Sturridge, and getting a quickly emerging Raheem Sterline to double digits on the season.

source: AP4. Norwich City approaching the Championship

The Canaries put up more of a fight than many expected, getting a Robert Snodgrass goal in the 77th minute to pull them within one. Without a result, however, the team remains within reach of every club in the drop. Even Sunderland, in last place, can pass Norwich next week thanks to its superior goal difference.

Unfortunately for Norwich, things don’t get much easier going forward. A trip to Old Trafford next weekend gives them some hope of a point, but even with the Red Devils’ struggles, the Canaries are underdogs. Closing out the season against Chelsea and Arsenal, Norwich will have to summon the spirit of Sunderland to stay out of the drop.

With Cardiff City and Fulham two points back, Sunderland three, Norwich has become the league’s best bet to go down, even if they don’t sit in the drop. Whereas a month ago nobody looked capable of climbing out of the bottom three, Norwich seems destined to assure one team’s survival.

5. Moyes’ unwelcome, unfair reception at Goodison

Everton may not have been pining for David Moyes to stay, but when the club’s long-time boss left for Manchester United last year, there wasn’t a huge push to kick him as he was walked out the door, either. By the time the Scottish manager returned to Goodison on Sunday, though, the mood had changed. Having seen what the squad is capable of under Roberto Martínez, the Everton faithful are no longer conceding the benefit of the doubt.

Symbolically, it was the low point of what’s destined to be Moyes’ only year at Manchester United. It’s one thing to fail in a new role, to see the person who took your place take your old job to new heights, and to suffer a defeat upon returning to your old haunts. It’s entirely different to return to visit your old office and be ridiculed. For as poor a fit as Moyes has been at United, Goodison’s reaction was too much.

It’s easy to pile on to Moyes right now. Manchester United fans are right to see him as a symbol of an unnecessarily exaggerated fall. But given his service to Everton, Sunday’s reaction went too far. If nothing else, Moyes deserved respect for the decade he gave to the club.

6. Aston Villa’s conditional takeover

The news came Thursday night, but over the last two days, the seeds of speculation have taken hold, so much so that Randy Lerner took to the club’s website to address the uncertain situation around his club. Aston Villa appears destined to be sold, but only if the club stays up, a situation that puts even more pressure on Paul Lambert to keep the Lions in the Premier League.

Lambert had already been the subject of increased criticism from Villa supporters, with the team’s uneven form and new relegation worries making it difficult to tell if the club was making progress. On Sunday, Lerner sought to assure fans that, for was difficult as recent seasons have been, Lambert was operating within parameters set by ownership. Blame Paul if you want, it implied, but know he’s acting under my commands.

That there may be a different person giving those commands next year has given supporters hope. Even the few Lerner supporters that remain would concede the owner’s plans since Martin O’Neill left had been either non-existent or more humble than many would expect. Recently a consistent contender for European spots, Villa is now obliged to relegation battles. For those keen to note this is the biggest club in Birmingham, the current state is unacceptable.

The new owners are supposed to be more ambitious. They want to invest. They want to compete, all of which makes the next three games even more important. If Lambert doesn’t keep them up, Lerner can’t sell the club.

Premier League transfer window grade: Crystal Palace

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Window Shopping: Tony Pulis spent two months looking at Ian Holloway’s knick-knacks and decided to clear the shelf, allowing 12 players to leave Crystal Palace by the end of the January window. Eight of those players will return in June, but for players like Kevin Phillips and Jimmy Kébé, the arrival of a new boss has meant playing time must be found elsewhere. Kébé will spend the next month searching for it through the growing muck at Leeds United, while Phillips has pulled what we like to call ‘The Kevin Phillips’ – dropping down to the Championship by joining Leicester City.

Arriving at Selhurst is a diverse collection of talent parts that should allow Pulis to craft a spot in next season’s Premier League. Tom Ince is the headliner, with the celebrated attacking midfield prospect electing to move on loan from Blackpool. Jason Puncheon provides some added scoring punch. Scott Dann may be able to rekindle his former Premier League self under Pulis, while Joe Ledley’s move away from Celtic provides another reminder of how far the Scottish league has fallen.

Even after Sunday’s loss to Arsenal, Palace is out of the drop, but there are enough parts here to provide Pulis with some needed options as he tries to avoid his first relegation. From attack to midfield, defense to goal (with former Wolves’ keeper Wayne Hennessey), Palace has bolstered. At worst, there’s now enough depth to preclude one or two injuries from derailing their survival hopes.

Players In: Jason Banton (MK Dons, return from loan), Wayne Hennessey (Wolverhampton, undisclosed), Scott Dann (Blackburn, undisclosed), Joe Ledley (Celtic, undisclosed), Jason Puncheon (Southampton, undisclosed), Tom Ince (Blackpool, loan)

Players Out: Jerome Williams (Forest Green, loan), Jason Banton (Plymouth, undisclosed), Jimmy Kébé (Leeds, loan), Alex Wynter (Sutton United, loan), Ryan Inniss (Luton, loan), Kevin Phillips (Leicester City, free), Matthew Parsons (Plymouth, undisclosed), Kwesi Appiah (Notts County, loan), Jack Hunt (Barnsley, loan), Florian Marange (Sochaux, free), Stephen Dobbie (Blackpool, loan), Jose Angel Campaña (Nürnberg, loan)

RECAP: All the deals on deadline day

Grade: B

If the new Eagles’ boss entered January hoping to make room and bolster, he accomplished both. Finding homes for 12 players, four leaving on permanent moves, Pulis has done his spring cleaning in winter, with the players being brought in all looking like useful parts.

In that way, this wasn’t just shuffling the deck. In Ince and Ledley, Pulis brought in the type of players he didn’t have at his disposal. There’s an upside to Dann that could make him a value buy (assuming that undisclosed fee is reasonably low). Puncheon provides the goals that Cameron Jerome has been unable to find, while Hennessey gives the team depth should anything happen to Julian Speroni.

It wasn’t spectacular, but Crystal Palace’s January window was eminently solid. It was the Tony Pulis of transfer windows.

 

Crystal Palace 1-0 West Ham United: Eagles protect first half goal, take first win under Pulis (video)

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Marouane Chamakh’s goal near the end of the first half gave Crystal Palace their third win of the season, the Eagles’ 1-0 victory over West Ham United at Selhurst Park vaulting the club out of the cellar Premier League cellar, giving the team their first victory of the Tony Pulis era.

After the second game of their new manager’s reign, Palace temporarily climbs above Sunderland and into 19th place, with the Black Cats hosting Chelsea tomorrow. West Ham, coming off a 3-0 weekend win over Fulham, stay 15th, having won once in their last seven league games.

The Hammers nearly drew first blood on Tuesday, with a Carlton Cole ball sent through the six-yard box from the left of goal in the 36th minute skipping over Stewart Downing’s foot in front of a vacated right post. With a shot from Kevin Nolan having drawing a save from Julian Speroni five minutes earlier, the visitors to be breaking through the match’s early feeling out period  and building toward an opening goal.

It was Crystal Palace, however, who’d distinguish themselves before halftime, with Chamakh’s second goal of the season giving the home side a lead at the break. Against a club when he spent an ill-fated loan spell with last year, the target man converted on a 42nd minute corner, Barry Bannan’s floated cross after a ball playing short allowing the former Arsenal striker to carve out room between himself and Nolan. Heading down and into the left of goal, Chamakh sent his team into intermission with a 1-0 lead.

Early in the second, Crystal Palace nearly doubled their lead, with chances from James Puncheon and Cameron Jerome testing Jussi Jaaskelainen’s ability to keep his team within one. At full stretch to his right post, the Finnish goalkeeper denied Puncheon from 14 yards in the 51st minute, pushing the ball out for a corner. Moments later, Mile Jedinak headed Cameron Jerome past an out-of-position James Collins and in on goal. Bursting off his line, Jaaskelainen blocked the former Stoke striker’s chance to double his new team’s lead, keeping the visitors within reach.

Five minutes later, with the field starting to tilt toward West Ham’s goal, Sam Allardyce changed things up, bringing on Modibo Maiga and Joe Cole for Carlton Cole and Noble. Soon injury forced Tony Pulis into his first change, bringing on Jimmy Kébé for James Puncheon in the 66th minute. As the game entered it final 20 minutes, Crystal Palace begun holding out, conceding the bulk of the match’s possession to the Hammers.

As the second half wore down, the fresh legs of Stuart O’Keefe and Jonathan Williams gave Palace a way out of their own end, with Kébé nearly finding an insurance goal after turning on a shot toward an open goal from 17 yards out. But rushed by a small, desperate swarm of Hammers defenders, the Eagles’ attacker shot over the cross-bar, giving fans at Selhurst Park a few more moments’ doubt.

Ninety seconds later, Lee Mason’s window calmed their concerns. With their second win in three games, Palace has climbed out of last place, Tony Pulis giving his new club’s supporters reason to their team can move on from the season’s tough start.

Goals

Crystal Palace: Marouane Chamakh 42

Lineups

Crystal Palace: Julian Speroni; Joel Ward, Danny Gabbidon, Damien Delaney, Dean Moxey; James Puncheon (Jimmy Kébé 66), Mile Jedinak, Kagiso Dikgocoi, Barry Bannan (Stuart O’Keefe 82); Marouane Chamakh (Jonathan Williams 85), Cameron Jerome

Unused Substitutes: Lewis Price, Adrian Mariappa, Dwight Gayle, Kevin Phillips

West Ham United: Jussi Jaaskelainen; Joey O’Brien, James Collins, James Tomkins, Razvan Rat (George McCartney 78);Mark Noble, Kevin Nolan (Joe Cole 58), Ravel Morrison, Stewart Downing, Mohamed Diame; Carlton Cole (Modibo Maiga 58).

UnusedSubstitutes: Adrian, Matthew Jarvis, Guy Demel, Jack Collison

Watch Live: Crystal Palace vs. West Ham United (Lineups and Discuss)

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Last year this would have been a throw back to the old days in England, Tony Pulis’s dogged pragmatism against the blunt efficacy of Sam Allardyce’s approach. Now? Allardyce’s West Ham have at times played without a traditional striker, while Pulis is in his second game at a new job. The core of each man’s soccer ethos may be unchanged, but was may be in for some surprises today at Selhurst Park.

That’s where Crystal Palace, still entrenched at the bottom of the Premier League, will welcome the Hammers to start the league’s mid-week match day. With nine matches scheduled tomorrow, today’s meeting between London clubs serves as the appetizer for the league’s 14th round of action, and although we’re still likely to see a physical, direct, cagey affair battle between teams set up by two blunt bosses, the importance of three points between two lower-table teams should make for a spirited match.

Today’s game is available live on NBC Sports Live Extra, with festivities set to kick off in Croydon at 3 p.m. Eastern.

Lineups

Crystal Palace: Julian Speroni; Joel Ward, Danny Gabbidon, Damien Delaney, Dean Moxey; James Puncheon, Mile Jedinak, Kagiso Dikgocoi, Barry Bannan; Marouane Chamakh, Cameron Jerome

Substitutes: Lewis Price, Adrian Mariappa, Stuart O’Keefe, Jonathan Williams, Jimmy Kebe, Dwight Gayle, Kevin Phillips

West Ham United: Jussi Jaaskelainen; Joey O’Brien, James Collins, James Tomkins, Razvan Rat; Mark Noble, Kevin Nolan, Ravel Morrison, Stewart Downing, Mohamed Diame; Carlton Cole.

Substitutes: Adrian, George McCartney, Matthew Jarvis, Modibo Maiga, Guy Demel, Joe Cole, James Collison

Ryan Giggs celebrates 40th birthday, how much longer can he play on?

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Many happy returns to Ryan Giggs as the Manchester United legend turned 40 years of age on Friday.

Just a few days after his sensational display for United as they demolished Bayer Leverkusen 5-0 in the UEFA Champions League, Giggs is still turning on the style for the Red Devils.

To put it into context, the Welsh winger made his debut for United in 1991 and 22 years later he has no immediate plans to retire.

But in one of several interviews he’s given to UK media to celebrate his landmark achievement, Giggs believes something innocuous will tell him when it’s time to hang up the boots.

“There will be some incident and I will feel different,” Giggs said. “I’m wary of that because as soon as you’ve felt that or let on that you felt that other can see it. But it’s not so much that as it is the way you feel within yourself. I’m still wanting to do well in every game and wanting to win trophies. My focus needs to be on that. Until I decide and until it’s the end of the season. ”

Giggs, 40, has played over 950 games for United and scored in every Premier League season since the league was founded in 1992-93. Earlier in the week my colleague Mike Prindiville (use link below to read his thoughts) used a vast number of superlatives to sum up Giggs’ career so far, so I thought I’d try and break it down and see how much longer he will actually play.

(MORE: The legend turns 40 this Friday, how long can Ryan Giggs go?)

He is the fourth oldest outfield player in the history of the PL as Teddy Sheringham, Kevin Phillips and Gordon Strachan have all played into their 40s. This season he has played 12 times for United and has only been on the losing side once as his invincibility and legendary status across the global game continues to grow.

If that’s even possible.

But none of that aforementioned over 40s have enjoyed anywhere near the success that Giggs has in his glittering career at United. After making his debut as a 17-year-old and being described by Sir Alex Ferguson as looking like a “crisp packet floating in the wind” when he used to effortlessly glide past full backs as a winger, Giggs has now re-invented himself as a central midfield player that can spray the ball about and use his vast experiences to unlock opposition defenses from deep-lying positions. He has won 13 PL titles, four FA Cups and two Champions League titles amongst many other personal accolades.

To give you an example of his influence on a game, take a look at Giggs’ passing chart (courtesy of Squawka) from the impressive win against Leverkusen in midweek when he played the full 90 minutes and orchestrated United’s resounding win from central midfield.

He’s still got it.

But with his coaching badges in place and helping David Moyes coach United whilst still playing, when should Giggsy hang up his boots and call it quits?

As he mentioned he will assess things on a yearly basis, as he has done at the end of every season in recent memory, and will sit down at the end of this campaign to see if he’ll play on. At this rate, Giggs is still contributing a making a big difference for United, so why couldn’t he carry on for a few more seasons?

Remarkably many thought Giggs’ career would be winding down over six years ago when he retired as captain of the Welsh national team. But unloading that burden of representing his national team has helped Giggs prolong his club career, plus he’s a big lover of Yoga… so that has something to do with it too.

Many believe Giggs should call it quits after this season as he begins to take a more prominent role behind the scenes at United as a coach and he should retire before he becomes too old and isn’t as influential on the pitch as he once was.

But if he can keep playing the way he is now and juggle coaching and playing for one of the world’s biggest clubs, Giggs should be allowed to decide when he steps down. Moyes said earlier this week that Giggs will tell him when he’s finished, not the other way round. Playing in central midfield, picking up the pieces and using delicate passing and vision that’s been refined over two decades means his physical fitness can decline and Giggs can still contribute meaningfully over the next few seasons. At least…

His wand of a left foot is still mesmerizing opposition defenses, long may that continue. In the past greats such as Sir Stanley Matthews played in the top flight until they were half a century old. Today’s game is perhaps much more physically demanding than the past, so that’s a big ask.

Happy Birthday Giggsy… can you make it to 50?