Newcastle United's Papiss Cisse (L) is c

Shipped from abroad, England: League clearly irrelevant for Chelsea, Liverpool … Newcastle?

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Argue that Liverpool’s potential trophy haul (two) offsets their league swoon and you’ll likely finds new friends from Chelsea’s camp. The Blues’ disappointing home display on Wednesday almost assures they’ll finish outside the top four for the first time in 10 years. But they’re in the Champions League final, so I guess that doesn’t matter. They lost 2-0 at Stamford Bridge. Who cares?

Judging by Roberto di Matteo’s selection, he doesn’t. At least, it seems he came to grips with losing before the opening whistle. With Saturday’s FA Cup final on the horizon, Chelsea’s manager made it very clear who’ll be selected for Wembley. Didier Drogba sat. Frank Lampard sat, as did Ashley Cole and Juan Mata. John Terry played, but that’s only because Chelsea’s central defenders are nearly all tapped out. As always, Fernando Torres starting was the biggest indicator of Chelsea’s intent (no, a hat trick against QPR doesn’t change that).

But here we are, three paragraphs into an England update, and we’ve failed to mention to whom Chelsea lost. Newcastle got two more goals from Papiss Demba Cisse (who, by my erroneous count, is up to 102 goals in 14 games since moving from Freiburg), and their fifth place position (tied for fourth with Spurs, on points) justifies more than the passing phase or patronizing analysis they’ve been treated to all year. Though they still have to navigate an impending meeting with Manchester City to pose a serious challenge to Spurs, Newcastle has locked up a place in Europe, something few pegged them for before the season.

Back then, nobody had can of chestnuts to crack open for the Magpies. Who is this Yoann Cabaye guy? From Lille? He’s certainly no Joe Cole. And they’ll have to resort to Tim Krul in net? Oh, my. I’ve got nothing to say about him. Demba Ba’s their striker? Well, he couldn’t keep West Ham up. They’ll do well to survive. (Full disclose, I picked them eighth, so I both resemble this and am gloating.)

Given how much media on each side of the pond has relied on the “Moneyball” crutch for content, Newcastle should really be getting more column inches. Or whatever column inches are in the digital world. Within the last two years they’ve let Andy Carroll, Jose Enrique, Kevin Nolan, and Joey Barton go. In their place  they’ve looked abroad for value buys – players who can use Newcastle as a shop window and a foot in the door of English soccer. Ba, Cisse, Cabaye, Chiek Tiote, Gabriel Obertan, Davide Santon, Hatem Ben Arfa’s combined transfer fees come in at £5 million less than Andy Carroll’s.

In fairness, it’s difficult to trump a victor’s virtues when their opposition’s not giving their best effort. And given major media’s need to generate hits and keep promises to their advertisers, it’s no surprise that the six big boys have relegated the Magpies success to blogs and social media. Site stats bare it out: Few people go to major sites for Magpie content. Even as Newcastle looks set to spend the season’s last days fighting for a Champions League spot, only the insatiable soccer consumer is digging for more stories about the Toon. Then again, they’re insatiable.

Most sites are more interesting in looking at Chelsea and Liverpool and debating the significance of a league most see as being wrapped up on Monday. Today, Chelsea revealed their view, ting to rest the heart of their team ahead of a cup final. Yesterday, Liverpool’s latest step toward mediocrity made their feelings clear.

But if you want a real measure of how little placement in this season’s table matters, search for the adulates greeting Newcastle’s rise. Don’t waste too much time, though. Aside from the devoted fan blog or the subtly irony a mainstreamer is using to provide counter-narrative (wink), you’re unlikely to find them.

Elsewhere in England

Tuesday’s results
Liverpool 0-1 Fulham
Stoke City 1-1 Everton

Wednesday’s results
Chelsea 0-2 Newcastle
Bolton 1-4 Tottenham

Races

Champions League: Manchester City (83 points/36 games), Manchester United (83/36), Arsenal (66/36), Tottenham (64/36)*

Europa League: Newcastle (64/36) (Liverpool has already qualified by virtue of winning the League Cup; Chelsea has qualified by virtue of making the FA Cup final)

Survival (relegation): Aston Villa (37/36), Wigan (37/36), QPR (34/36), Bolton (34/36), Blackburn (31/36)

* – if Chelsea wins Champions League, they take Spurs’ spot in the 2012-13 tournament, relegating Tottenham to Europa.

Stuff that stuck out:

  • With the loss, Chelsea sits sixth, leaving the fight for fourth to Tottenham and Newcastle. A week ago Spurs were thought to be conceding fourth to the Magpies, but seemingly seconds before the specter of the England national team chalice stopped hovering over Harry Redknapp, Tottenham start winning.
  • Bolton’s games in hand are now used up, and they sit 18th and close out the season with winnable matches against West Brom and (at) Stoke. QPR hosts Stoke before visiting the Etihad. Don’t sleep on Villa. They’re winless in eight, and led by the most dispiriting manager in the Premier League, they’re far from safety.
  • Peter Crouch’s Tuesday opener may have been for the wrong team, but it was still the 10,000the goal in Premier League history. Which means nothing.
  • Papiss Demba Cissé scored both goals at Stamford Bridge, including this … this-ness. Uhhhh …
  • Fortresses aren’t made like they’re used to. Or, at least, teams are less interested in erecting them than they’re used to. Both Liverpool and Chelsea must in a couple of “meh” performances mid-week, something you can’t really fault them for in light of Saturday’s stakes. It’s still a bit strange seeing them not only lose but also be blanked.

Up next: Two huge matches this weekend: Saturday’s FA Cup final and Sunday’s visit to Newcastle from Manchester City. We’ll probably do some offshore drilling on each.

More packages – check out previous shipments from abroad.

Wenger slams criticism of Arsenal’s players ahead of fan protests

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Arsene Wenger is not a happy man.

I know, I know, tell us something we don’t know.

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However, the 66-year-old Gunners boss has taken exception to widespread criticism of his players ahead of fan protests against him which are planned for this Saturday’s game against Norwich (Watch live, 12:30 p.m. ET on NBC and online via Live Extra) at the Emirates Stadium.

Speaking to the media on Friday, Wenger stood up for his players who are having their commitment questioned.

“I tell you, this team has character and attitude. Some people who question them, I know them well – they have less character than this team has. I saw them play, and even know them very closely, and they should not question the character of these players,” Wenger said. “There are some groups of people that try to manipulate our fans, but I believe apart from a personal agenda and a big ego there’s not a lot behind [the criticism].”

Okay then…

[ MORE: Wenger has a message for Arsenal’s fans ]

With empty seats galore at the Emirates last Thursday during the 2-0 win over West Bromwich Albion, Wenger had been dealing with growing fan unrest throughout this season.

Although Wenger urged fans of Arsenal to support the players on Saturday against Norwich he did admit he shares their frustration about limping out of the title race this season, of all seasons.

“I can understand the frustration,” Wenger said. “No one is more frustrated than me, but our disappointment has not to go too far. When a club cannot enjoy anything any more, it is in trouble, and we have to not forget that in football you go down very quickly and you come up very slowly.”

Arsenal looked certain to be making a title charge in February after they beat Leicester City late on but since that huge victory they’ve won just three of their last nine Premier League games, plus lost in the FA Cup to Watford and were knocked out of the UEFA Champions League by Barcelona at the Round of 16.

After two decades of Wenger in charge and no PL title in 12 years, Arsenal’s fans want more. They want trophies and success.

They also want answers from Wenger and as the protests on Saturday will show, the vast majority also want a new manager.

Goteborg apologizes over crowd trouble at abandoned match

GOTHENBURG, SWEDEN - OCTOBER 31:  IFK Goteborg receives the silver medal after the match between IFK Goteborg and Kalmar FF at Gamla Ullevi on October 31, 2015 in Gothenburg, Sweden.  (Photo by Nils Petter Nilsson/Ombrello/Getty Images)
Photo by Nils Petter Nilsson/Ombrello/Getty Images
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GOTEBORG, Sweden (AP) Swedish club IFK Goteborg has apologized for crowd trouble that resulted in a league match against Malmo being abandoned after a firework landed next to a visiting player warming up on the sidelines and he responded angrily.

Wednesday’s game was interrupted in the 77th minute, with the score at 0-0, when a firecracker tossed from the crowd exploded next to midfielder Tobias Sana, a former Goteborg player. Jolted by the loud bang, Sana reacted by throwing a corner flag into the stands.

[ WATCH: Sana throws corner flag into Goteborg fans ]

Match officials decided to abandon the match, saying a linesman who was also near the firework when it exploded was shocked by the incident.

Sana, who said he had a headache and ear pain following the incident, apologized for his actions.

“Now that I’ve gotten over the shock, I feel it was the stupidest decision of my life,” Sana said Thursday in statement. “There are many young people who look up to me so I really want to apologize.”

Malmo said that Sana wouldn’t face any sanctions from the club.

In a move suggesting the firework was thrown by home fans, Goteborg posted an apology on its website directed at Malmo, match officials and the spectators. The club could face sanctions from the Swedish football association’s disciplinary committee.

There was another security incident on a chaotic evening in Goteborg. After the match was suspended, a Norwegian hockey player ran onto the field, reportedly as part of a bet with teammates at recently crowned Swedish champion Frolunda.

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Newspaper Aftonbladet said Mats Rosseli Olsen, who played for Norway at the Sochi Olympics, was charged with a public order offense and could face fines.

Frolunda director Christian Lechtaler told Swedish news agency TT that Olsen’s behavior would have “consequences” but didn’t elaborate.

“Mats is very regretful and doesn’t feel good at all about this,” Lechtaler said.

Swedish football has been marred by crowd problems for years, including fans throwing objects at players and match officials and brawling with each other before or after games. Two years ago, a Djurgarden fan was killed after being attacked by hooligans ahead of an away match against Helsingborg.

Flores on future at Watford: “I need to feel happy”

during the Barclays Premier League match between West Ham United and Watford at the Boleyn Ground, April 20, 2016, London, England
Photo by Mike Hewitt/Getty Images
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On the surface, it sounds crazy: Why trade a manager who led a first-year Premier League club to relatively quick safety in England’s top flight and a FA Cup semifinal?

But Watford is not any club when it comes to their views on managers, having parted ways with Slavisa Jokanovic after the Serbian manager led them to promotion. Oh, and when hired Jokanovic was the Hornets fourth coach in five weeks.

[ EUROPA: Villarreal 1-0 Liverpool | Shakhtar 2-2 Sevilla ]

So current manager Quique Sanchez Flores isn’t safe despite the Hornets’ 12th place status. That probably has a lot to do with Watford’s four points since the start of March, a tough schedule run that included Leicester City, Manchester United, Arsenal and West Ham.

So, could he be gone this summer? Flores has a break clause after this season, and Watford may not have a choice even if they want to keep the Spaniard around.

From Sky Sports:

Asked if he wanted to stay, Flores said: “This is not the question for me now.

“I know the kind of people I want to work with. That’s the only thing I can say. In the last four or five years I work from my feelings. I work around people I feel completely protected with.

“These are my feelings. When we finish the season I will check what the conditions are but I need to feel happy.”

Who needs who the most? Flores’ season has been impressive even with the late struggles, but Watford’s managerial merry-go-round happened before the club advanced into the Premier League and they’ve survived despite making a change in the summer. Still, we’d do our best to keep Flores at Vicarage Road.

Ex-soccer star Weah to run again for president of Liberia

DURBAN, SOUTH AFRICA - NOVEMBER 25: Liberia soccer legend George Weah speaks during the 2010 FIFA World Cup Preliminary Draw at the ICC convention centre on November 25, 2007 in Durban, South Africa.  (Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)
Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images
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MONROVIA, Liberia (AP) Former world footballer of the year George Weah says he will make a second bid to become president of Liberia.

The ex-AC Milan striker announced on Thursday he will stand as a candidate in elections next year, when current president Ellen Johnson Sirleaf’s second and final term ends.

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Weah, who formed the Congress for Democratic Change party, lost to Sirleaf in the 2005 election.

Declaring his intention to stand again, Weah told supporters he sympathized with the plight of many poor Liberians. He said “there were times I didn’t have school fees. I continued to strive with the hope that one day life will get better.”

Weah was the world footballer of the year in 1995. He is a senator in his West African homeland.