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Shipped from Abroad, England: Paths of Villas-Boas, Rodgers diverge

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On a weekend where José Mourinho was left searching for answers in Spain, two of his former associates diverged in England. Previously, Tottenham manager André Villas-Boas and Liverpool boss Brendan Rodgers had been sprinting hastily down the same pothole-ridden road, winless starts with new clubs leaving supporters checking their gardening supplies, looking for the crumbled paper pouch holding rashly discarded seeds of doubt.

Villas-Boas gave Spurs supporters reason to abandon the search. Thanks to two goals from Jermain Defoe, Tottenham posted their first victory of the season, a 3-1 win over Reading. Given the Royals are newly promoted (and yet to win on their return), Spurs’ win might be seen as obligatory, given their top four aspirations. But the three points were also just deserts for a squad that had performed better than their 0-1-2 (W-D-L) record. Beguiling swoons late in matches had undermined Villas-Boas’s first games, but after Tottenham scored twice in the final 20 minutes at the Madejski, the biggest qualm with the new manager’s regime was obliterated. Spurs can move on.

Closing the deal

Even though Spurs scored twice in Sunday’s final hour, a late goal from Reading’s Hal Robson-Kanu continued Tottenham’s pattern of conceding in a match’s last 10 minutes.

Score
(Spurs-opponent)
Date Opponent at 79′ Final
Aug. 18 at Newcastle 1-1 1-2
Aug. 25 West Brom 1-0 1-1
Sept. 1 Norwich 1-0 1-1
Sept. 16 at Reading 3-0 3-1

Liverpool, however, can not. A late Luis Suárez goal earned the Reds a good point at Sunderland, but the accomplishment is overshadowed by Liverpool’s record: 0-2-2. Their 17th place standing is Hodgsonian, even if their soccer is not. Showing continued (if subtle) progress in Rodgers’ system and style, Liverpool outshot Sunderland 23-7 (6-1 in shots on target), dominating the Opta possession, 66-34. Those numbers mean nothing as they concern Saturday’s final score, but they are hints – clues in the mystery that is Brendan Rodgers’ start. Results have eluded him, but there’s reason to believe they’ll come.

Just like Villas-Boas had his boogeyman, Rodgers has his. Spurs’ boss lifted The Curse of the Late Match Swoon (which would have been the title of the eighth Harry Potter book), but Rodgers can’t seem to find a non-Suárez scorer. Of Liverpool’s three goals on the season, Suárez has two, with nobody looking likely to join him. Raheem Sterling continues to enthrall with his pace and skill, but he’s lacking in final product. At 17, he can’t be expected to become the complete package overnight. Liverpool’s other attacker, Fabio Borini is a more worrisome case. Productive in Italy after being sold by Chelsea, Borini (21) is now scoreless in eight Premier League appearances, which wouldn’t be so troublesome if there were signs the drought would end.

After a Thursday trip to Switzerland to face Young Boys, Liverpool returns home for the season’s first North West Derby. It’s a game for which Steven Gerrard has typically stepped up, though Rodgers’ team doesn’t need Gerrard heroics. They need the plan to click. They need to start getting goals from the people who are supposed to score them. A few from Gerrard, Jonjo Shelvey and Joe Allen would be nice, but Liverpool needs long term, consistent help for Suárez. That would be more valuable than  an veteran inspiration.

Mixed starts for Premier League’s promoted sides

Of the three clubs that sit below Liverpool in the table, two were in the Championship last season. Reading’s opening day draw at home to Stoke is their only point, while Southampton has had to play Manchester City, Manchester United, and Arsenal (losing 6-1 on Saturday) en route to four straight losses.

A season after all three promoted teams stayed up, this year’s trio are off to a 2-7-2 start. If it wasn’t for West Ham United, it’d be much worse. Their point at Norwich on Saturday pushed them to 2-1-1 on the season, though the Hammers were always bound to be a special case.

Like Newcastle three years ago, West Ham should have never one down. They were too big, too well-resourced – too talented. Left to the guidance of Avram Grant, new owners David Gold and David Sullivan saw the tactics of neglect sink the team into 20th place despite.

West Ham had the talent to be a decent Premier League side, and although Scott Parker has since moved on, they still do. That they had to go through a promotion playoff this spring to get back to the Premiership shows how much they’d taken the second division for granted. Now that they’re back in the top tier, there’s no reason West Ham can’t finish mid-table.

How they stand

Champions: 1. Chelsea (4 gp/10 pts), 2. Manchester United (4/9), 3. Arsenal (4/8), 4. Manchester City (4/8)

Europa:5. Swansea City (4/7), 6. West Bromwich Albion (4/7), 7. West Ham United (4/7)

Relegation:18. Queens Park Rangers (4/2), 19. Reading (3/1), 20. Southampton (4/0)

Results:
Norwich City 0-0 West Ham United
Arsenal 6-1 Southampton
Aston Villa 2-0 Swansea City
Fulham 3-0 West Bromwich Albion
Manchester United 4-0 Wigan Athletic
Queens Park Rangers 0-0 Chelsea
Stoke City 1-1 Manchester City
Sunderland 1-1 Liverpool
Reading 1-3 Tottenham
Everton-Newcastle (Monday)

Elsewhere in England

  • See that top our to the right? Boy, that didn’t take long.
  • Despite their first blemish, Chelsea stay on top of the league after their 0-0 draw with Queens Park Rangers, a team that gave up five the last time they played a Loftus Road. Most disappointing for Chelsea: The nil-nil was a fair result.
  • Roberto Mancini decried Peter Crouch’s handball, but unfortunate goals happen to everybody. It’s not fair, but it’s something millions-approaching-billions in player expenditures could theoretically overcome. Instead, Manchester City was held to a 1-1 at Stoke.
  • Manchester United was shutout by Everton to begin the season. Since, they’ve scored a league-leading 10 goals, four of which came against Wigan on Saturday. Wayne Rooney is not missed.
  • Aston Villa got a highlight reel shot from Matthew Lowton and a late insurance tally from Christian Bentenke to post the first win of the Paul Lambert era. The bigger story: The Swansea goal machine was held under two for the first time this season.

San Jose Earthquakes release Clarence Goodson, eight others

San Jose Earthquakes forward Quincy Amarikwa (25) is mobbed by teammates after scoring against the Portland Timbers during the first half of an MLS soccer match Sunday, March 13, 2016, in San Jose, Calif. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)
AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez
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While the battle for MLS Cup 2016 has been dwindled down to two sides, the rest of the league continues to make roster transactions in preparation for next season.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s MLS coverage ]

The San Jose Earthquakes announced on Friday that the club has exercised options on six players, including goalkeeper David Bingham, Fatai Alashe, Kip Colvey and Victor Bernardez.

Additionally, the Earthquakes have released nine players, including U.S. Men’s National Team defender Clarence Goodson, Marc Pelosi and Tommy Thompson, however, the latter two are reportedly in talks to return to the club in 2017.

Napoli beats Inter 3-0 in Serie A after lightning start

NAPLES, ITALY - DECEMBER 02:  Players of Napoli celebrate the opening goal during the Serie A match between SSC Napoli and FC Internazionale at Stadio San Paolo on December 2, 2016 in Naples, Italy.  (Photo by Maurizio Lagana/Getty Images)
Maurizio Lagana/Getty Images
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NAPLES, Italy (AP) Napoli eased to a 3-0 win over Inter Milan in Serie A on Friday, with two goals in the opening five minutes.

[ MORE: Top 5 PL storylines heading into weekend ]

The home side got off to a lightning start as, following a wonderful team move, Jose Callejon headed back Marek Hamsik’s chipped pass for Piotr Zielinski to volley into the bottom left corner.

[ MORE: Ronaldo, Mourinho involved in massive tax evasion system ]

Zielinski turned provider moments later as Hamsik beat the offside trap to run onto his pass and fire into the bottom right corner.

It was Hamsik’s 104th goal for Napoli, moving him level with Edinson Cavani in third in the clubs’ goalscoring charts. The Slovakia forward needs 11 more to equal Diego Maradona’s record.

Inter started the second half aggressively but hopes of getting back into the match were scuppered six minutes after the restart when Lorenzo Insigne netted his fourth goal in three league matches after visiting goalkeeper Samir Handanovic only flapped at a corner.

Napoli moved level on points with Atalanta, which visits league leader Juventus on Saturday, and fourth-placed Lazio, which hosts Roma in the capital derby on Sunday.

Inter, which beat Fiorentina 4-2 on Monday for its first win under coach Stefano Pioli, remained eighth ahead of the rest of the weekend’s fixtures.

Report: Paraguayan midfielder Almiron to join Atlanta United for $13 million

PHILADELPHIA, PA - JUNE 11:  Miguel Almiron #17 of Paraguay tries to keep the ball as John Brooks #6 of United States slides in the first half during the Copa America Centenario Group C match at Lincoln Financial Field on June 11, 2016 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
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On a day where Atlanta United added another young talent, the 2017 MLS expansion side could be preparing to make a major splash for a South American playmaker.

According to numerous Argentine media outlets, Atlanta is closing in on signing Paraguay international Miguel Almiron for an MLS-record fee of $13 million from Lanus at the end of 2016.

Almiron, 22, has scored three goals in 34 appearances for Lanus since joining the Argentine club in 2015. The young winger began his professional career back in 2013 with Cerro Porteno, where Almiron also played for the club’s youth academy.

On the international stage, Almiron has already earned seven caps for Paraguay after previously representing the nation’s Under-17 and U-20 national teams.

El Clasico Preview: Barcelona looks to break Real Madrid’s hold on La Liga

BARCELONA, SPAIN - APRIL 02:  Casemiro of Real Madrid CF battles for the ball with Neymar of FC Barcelona during the La Liga match between FC Barcelona and Real Madrid CF at Camp Nou on April 2, 2016 in Barcelona, Spain.  (Photo by Alex Caparros/Getty Images)
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It could very well be the greatest rivalry in all of sports, and Saturday will see another installment of El Clasico in Spain’s top flight.

[ MORE: Messi looking to end El Clasico scoring drought ]

Barcelona will host Real Madrid on Saturday at the Camp Nou (10 a.m. ET on beIN Sport) as the Blaugrana look to hand the Madridistas their first loss of the La Liga season.

[ MORE: Griezmann joins Ronaldo, Messi for FIFA’s Best Player award ]

Through 13 rounds of play, Real remains the only unbeaten side in La Liga, sitting on 33 points atop the first division. Barca finds itself six points back, however, a victory would go a long way in cutting down Real’s advantage.

Cristiano Ronaldo’s 10 goals in league play thus far has paced Real to its hot start, which includes a 20-match unbeaten streak in all competitions dating back to the start of the La Liga calendar.

The Portuguese attacker will need to continue his brilliance this weekend, though, as Real is forced to cope without Welsh star Gareth Bale. The winger is expected to miss four months after undergoing an ankle operation recently.

Meanwhile, Barcelona enters the Clasico in less-than-ideal form for a club with massive expectations. Luis Enrique’s side has gone unbeaten in its last five matches across all competitions, but the Blaugrana have looked less than convincing in that span.

“It’s a special game and we want to make the team and fans happy. I expect 100,000 people cheering us on,” said Enrique. “The game tomorrow is a chance to beat Real Madrid and to get closer to the top of the table, nothing more.

“Controlling your emotions is basic. In a game like this one, what happens on the field has little to do with the league table.”

Temperament will surely be key for both sides in the contentious matchup, particularly with the meeting being historically one of great physicality. Red cards have been shown in the last two meetings, with Real players both being the recipients of the ejections (Sergio Ramos & Isco).

Lionel Messi and his 21 previous Clasico goals will prove to be crucial for Barcelona as they look to put the first blemish on Real’s record in 2016. The Argentine has 19 goals in all tournaments, making his presence an absolute must if Barca is to snatch a victory.

Real earned a victory in their most recent encounter with Barca, a 2-1 result in April 2016, where Ronaldo netted the game-winner inside the final five minutes of play.