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.

Ranieri criticizes Leicester for lacking “desire and heart”

LONDON, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 18:  Claudio Ranieri, Manager of Leicester City looks dejected during The Emirates FA Cup Fifth Round match between Millwall and Leicester City at The Den on February 18, 2017 in London, England.  (Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images)
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LONDON (AP) Leicester manager Claudio Ranieri criticized his players for lacking “desire and heart” in a 1-0 loss at third-tier Millwall in the FA Cup fifth round on Saturday, the latest setback for the stuttering English champion.

[ MORE: FA Cup roundup — Premier League sides underwhelm in 5th round ]

Leicester, which is one point above the relegation zone in a woeful defense of its Premier League title, is without a victory in its last eight matches.

Millwall played most of the second half with 10 men and won thanks to a 90th-minute goal.

“I want to speak again with the players and say we have to fight every match,” an animated Ranieri said. “Who wants to fight? Tell me. I need the soldiers, I need the gladiators.

[ MORE: Fifth-division Lincoln City shock PL side Burnley in FA Cup ]

“It is strange because last season we won for this, to be more determined than the opponent and play with more heart than the opponent. We could also lose but we would fight every match. I want to see this, the fight until the end.”

Leicester’s next match is against Sevilla in the first leg of the Champions League last 16 on Wednesday.

FOLLOW LIVE: Spurs, Man United away in FA Cup 5th round

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 16:  Zlatan Ibrahimovic of Manchester United celebrates after scoring his third and his sides third goal during the UEFA Europa League Round of 32 first leg match between Manchester United and AS Saint-Etienne at Old Trafford on February 16, 2017 in Manchester, United Kingdom.  (Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images)
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Saturday’s FA Cup fifth-rounders served up the biggest Cupset of them all — fifth-division side Lincoln City knocking off Burnley of the Premier League — as well as two moderately shocking results — Leicester City losing to 10-man Millwall (League One) and Manchester City drawing 0-0 with Huddersfield Town (Championship).

[ FOLLOW LIVE: Sunday’s FA Cup 5th-rounders ]

On Sunday, two more of the PL’s big boys hope to avoid upsets and reach the quarterfinals of the 2016-17 tournament. First up, Tottenham Hotspur visit Fulham’s Craven Cottage in a renewed London derby, followed by Manchester United’s trip to Blackburn Rovers’ Ewood Park. For live scores and updates, hit the above link, or click right here.

Saturday’s FA Cup results

Burnley 0-1 Lincoln City — RECAP | REACTION
Huddersfield 0-0 Manchester City
Millwall 1-0 Leicester City
Middlesbrough 3-0 Oxford United
Wolverhampton Wanderers 0-2 Chelsea

Sunday’s FA Cup schedule

Fulham vs. Tottenham Hotspur — 9 a.m. ET
Blackburn Rovers vs. Manchester United — 11:15 a.m. ET

Monday’s FA Cup schedule

Sutton United vs. Arsenal — 2:55 p.m. ET

Report: AC Milan negotiating new deal for keeper Donnaumma

ROME, ITALY - FEBRUARY 13:  AC Milan goalkeeper Gianluigi Donnarumma gestures during the Serie A match between SS Lazio and AC Milan at Stadio Olimpico on February 13, 2017 in Rome, Italy.  (Photo by Paolo Bruno/Getty Images)
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Gianluigi Donnarumma has quickly become one of the most coveted goalkeepers in the world, and he’s only 17 years old.

[ MORE: Gameiro nets hat-trick in five minutes for Atletico ]

And that’s why AC Milan plans on doing everything in its power to hold on to the Italy international.

[ MORE: U.S. U-20s fall to Panama to begin CONCACAF Championship ]

According to CalcioMercato, the Rossoneri are preparing to lock up Donnarumma to a big deal once he turns 18 next week in order to fend off the likes of Premier League duo Chelsea and Manchester United, as well as Real Madrid.

However, agent Mino Raiola could stand in the way of Milan as they attempt to negotiate with the promising shot stopper out of fear that the club won’t be able to compete with Europe’s best teams.

Also, it has been suggested that Raiola is seeking at least $4.25 million per season for Donnarumma plus add ons, while Milan is said to be willing to go as high as $2.1 million annually.

Donnarumma is currently in his second professional season with Milan and has risen to the Italian national team level over the past year as well. The young keeper is seen as the logical successor to Gianluigi Buffon once his international career concludes.

Baggio marks 50th birthday by visiting quake victims

ROME, ITALY - SEPTEMBER 01: Roberto Baggio (L) is challenged by Diego Lugano during the Interreligious Match For Peace at Olimpico Stadium on September 1, 2014 in Rome, Italy.  (Photo by Valerio Pennicino/Getty Images)
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AMATRICE, Italy (AP) Italian great Roberto Baggio marked his 50th birthday on Saturday by visiting towns devastated by earthquakes last year.

[ MORE: FA Cup Saturday wrap — Man City held against Huddersfield ]

Baggio opted not to celebrate his milestone surrounded by celebrities, and instead spent the day in Amatrice, which was almost wiped out by the Aug. 24 earthquake.

The former world footballer of the year, who met children and others from the central Italy region, said “it was very emotional,” and he went there with his family “to fully understand what so many people are going through.”

Baggio also met the mayor of Amatrice, Sergio Pirozzi, and said they will remain in contact, “and we will try to do something concrete.”

Baggio was moving on to nearby Norcia, which was also damaged, and there was a party organized with a birthday cake.

The Aug. 24 quake killed nearly 300 people and left a further 4,000 homeless. There were aftershocks for several days as well as more quakes in October and January.

Baggio, who was nicknamed “Il Divin Codino” (The Divine Ponytail) for the hairstyle he wore for most of his career, scored 27 goals in 57 appearances for Italy and helped the Azzurri to third place in the 1990 World Cup and runner-up four years later, when he famously missed the last penalty kick of the shootout in the final with Brazil.

He won the Serie A title with Juventus in 1995 and with AC Milan the following year.