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Snap Judgments: Saturday in the English Premier League

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The English Premier League’s two best Saturday matches were the ones least likely to be watched, and it wasn’t just about the final scores. Matches in Reading and Wigan did combine for 10 goals, but the day’s other four contests offered little to offset their lack of goals. With most of the league’s big names playing on Sunday, we should have expected a somewhat down day in England, though even with deflated expectations, the Premier League’s matchday failed to satisfy.

Aston Villa 1-1 Norwich City

You take what you can get when you’re playing with 10 men. The problem for Villa is how they looked with 11. Though they took an early lead through Belgian attacker Christian Benteke (his second goal of the season), Villa continued to be there unoffensive, ineffective selves. Even against  a Norwich side that’s had trouble preventing goals, Villa looked utterly preventable. When an ill-advised foul from Joe Bennett left Villa a man down for the last 38 minutes, the result seemed inevitable. Michael Turner’s header gave the Canaries a point from a match Villa would have targeted for three.

Impact: Aston Villa’s 17th after nine rounds, and only Sunderland’s scored fewer goals. It’s not time for panic, but it is time for worry. Norwich City’s only one place better.

Arsenal 1-0 Queens Park Rangers

Two poor teams saw their match decided by a poor individual decision. Stephane Mbia’s irrational kick towards Thomas Vermaelen earned straight red in the 78th minute, with Arsenal scoring two minutes later. Replays showed Mikel Arteta was offside when heading a ball onto the crossbar (before eventually volleying home the winner), but if it wasn’t for some heroics from QPR keeper Julio Cesar, Arsenal would have put away the game much earlier.

It was another discouraging performance for cellar-dwelling QPR, who need to assess whether Mark Hughes can get something out of their expensive squad. Right now, there’s no evidence he can.

For Arsenal, although the win snapped a two-match losing streak, their play continues to show regression from their early-season form.

Impact: Arsenal jumps fourth and continue to have the league’s best defense. QPR is last, tied with Norwich City and Southampton for the league’s worst goal difference.

Reading 3-3 Fulham

The Royals and Cottagers combined for three goals from the 85th minute on, with Hal Robinson-Kanu’s stoppage time equalizer salvaging a point for the home side. Fulham is playing some of the most attractive soccer in the Premier League, even if they weren’t able to convert their 66 percent possession into three points. Dimitar Berbatov continues to emerge as the focal point of Martin Jol’s attack, while a goal off the bench from Bryan Ruiz hints last year’s big purchase might be ready to live up to his price tag (£10.6 million).

Impact: Fulham is now up to sixth but need to find an answer for a defense that has allowed 14 goals. Reading is 18th but showed the first signs of living up to expectations that they’ll survive their Premier League return.

Stoke City 0-0 Sunderland

This match was predictably horrible and has to leave Sunderland fans wondering what they’ve gotten themselves into. When Martin O’Neill arrived on Tyne last year, the Black Cats looked capable of respectability. Now, they’re an uninspiring draw machine incapable of putting a shot on target against Stoke. Through eight rounds, they have a win, a loss, and eight draws. They let the worst possession team in the league have 52 percent of the ball, and judging by O’Neill’s choice to leave Stephane Sessegnon (overrated though he may be) out of his starting XI, this result may have been by design. Did Sunderland just out-Stoke Stoke?

Impact: None.

Wigan 2-1 West Ham

This result is more impressive result than it looks. Sam Allardyce has forged a solid squad, the type of team that would normally get a result from the DW this early in the season. Wigan, however, were up two by the 47th minute, scoring soon after each kickoff, giving the impression that manager Roberto Martínez might have had some undo influence on this game. If that’s the case – if Martínez has already got his pieces in place for Wigan – the Latics may avoid the type of drama they’ve courting over the last few seasons.

Impact: Wigan’s up to 15th while West Ham stays in the top half, sitting ninth.

Manchester City 1-0 Swansea City

A long distance strike from Carlos Tevez and some slow reactions from Michel Vorm are all the separated the two sides, both on the scoreboard and on merit. Manchester City rebounded from their mid-week loss in Amsterdam with an equally uninspiring performance, with Citizens supporters sure to ask what’s going on with their team.

It’s a soccer cliché to sound the alarms too early on a struggling team, but with Chelsea and Manchester United both better than their 2011-12 editions, City’s margin for error is much smaller than last year.

Impact: Oh, look here. Manchester City sits second and have yet to lose. In fact, they have a four-match winning streak. Though their play has been poor, the results are there. Swansea, on the other hand, have three points in five, dropping to 10th place.

Thanks, but no thanks: Sampaoli turns down vacant Argentina job

RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL - JUNE 18:  Head coach Jorge Sampaoli of Chile looks on during the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil Group B match between Spain and Chile at Maracana on June 18, 2014 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.  (Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images)
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MADRID (AP) Sevilla coach Jorge Sampaoli says he has turned down an offer to manage the Argentina national team.

Sampaoli tells Sevilla’s website “I had a call from the president of the (Argentine football) federation, but it would be irresponsible for me to leave Sevilla.”

Sampaoli was hired by Sevilla last month to replace new Paris Saint-Germain coach Unai Emery.

The Argentine-born Sampaoli led Chile to its first Copa America title in 2015.

Argentina has been without a coach since Gerardo Martino stepped down earlier this month after losing a second consecutive Copa America final.

Preseason roundup: Chelsea fall to Real Madrid; Man United win big

ANN ARBOR, MI - JULY 30:  Willian #22 of Chelsea defends against Marcelo Vieira Da Silva #12 of Real Madrid during the first half at Michigan Stadium on July 30, 2016 in Ann Arbor, Michigan. (Photo by Duane Burleson/Getty Images)
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A roundup of Saturday’s preseason action involving Premier League sides, including the 2016 International Champions Cup…

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s PL coverage ]

Real Madrid 3-2 Chelsea

Marcelo scored twice in the opening 26 minutes at the Big House in Ann Arbor, Mich., as Real Madrid picked up their first ICC victory of the preseason. It was 3-0 before halftime after Mariano Mejia beat no. 2 goalkeeper Asmir Begovic, who started the game and gave way to Thibaut Courtois at halftime, in the 37th minute.

Eden Hazard only pulled back the Blues’ consolation goals in the 80th and 90th minutes, meaning first-year manager Antonio Conte will have plenty of areas to target for improvement as the next 14 days roll by and Chelsea kick off their 2016-17 Premier League campaign Monday, Aug. 13, at home against West Ham United.

Manchester United 5-2 Galatasaray

The Zlatan Ibrahimovic era has officially begun at Manchester United after the most delightful of starts on Saturday. Ibrahimovic scored an acrobatic opening goal just four minutes into his Red Devils debut (watch at the link below), Wayne Rooney scored twice in the rout of Galatasaray, and Marcus Rashford showed once the kind of game-changing ability realized in his breakout 2015-16 season.

[ MORE: Zlatan scored a ridiculous scissor-kick goal on his debut ]

After entering the game at halftime, the 18-year-old was instantly the most dangerous player on the field, running at defenders at every opportunity and singlehandedly winning the penalty that resulted in Rooney’s second goal. Marouane Fellaini and Juan Mata scored the fourth and fifth goals, respectively.

Elsewhere in preseason action

Liverpool vs. AC Milan (10 p.m. ET)
Paris Saint-Germain vs. Leicester City (11:30 p.m. ET)
Real Betis 1-1 Everton
FC Gronigen 0-1 Southampton
Bournemouth 1-0 Cardiff
Rangers 1-3 Burnley
Nottingham Forest 1-2 Hull City
Aston Villa 1-3 Middlesbrough
Wolves 0-4 Swansea City
Fulham 3-1 Crystal Palace
Queens Park Rangers 2-0 Watford
Montpellier 1-1 Sunderland
Plymouth 0-0 West Bromwich Albion

After 2015 World Cup success, Australian women stood for better wages — and won

MONCTON, NB - JUNE 21:  Australia celebrates the 1-0 win over Brazil during the FIFA Women's World Cup 2015 round of 16 match between Brazil and Australia at Moncton Stadium on June 21, 2015 in Moncton, Canada.  (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
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Long before the U.S. women’s soccer team filed a federal complaint over wage discrimination, the Australian women fought for better pay.

And won.

The Matildas, as they are known, will be among the 12 women’s soccer teams playing in Brazil next week when the Olympics get underway. Their strike following a successful run in last summer’s Women’s World Cup in Canada was significant as female athletes across sports fight for recognition and respect – including their American counterparts.

“In terms of being trailblazers, I’m not really sure. I think we just sort of went about it how we thought was necessary,” Australian defender Steph Catley said. “We felt we deserved more.”

The Matildas have made a quick ascent as one of the world’s elite teams. They gained national attention last year when they became the first team from Australia – male or female – to win a World Cup knockout round match by upsetting Brazil 1-0 and advancing to the quarterfinals.

The United States went on to win the World Cup with a 5-2 victory over Japan in the final.

Afterward, the U.S. women scheduled a pair of exhibition matches against Australia as part of a victory tour. But the Australian federation withdrew from those matches after the Matildas walked out of training camp and the players’ union said contract talks with the national federation had stalled.

The Matildas, whose contract had expired, said they had not been paid for two months heading into the walkout.

The salary for a national team player was equivalent to $14,475, based on a six-month playing period. That meant many of the players needed to have other jobs to make ends meet. Some players worked two club seasons, one at home in Australia and the other in the United States with the National Women’s Soccer League, meaning they played year-round.

The players were asking for a salary increase to $28,000 a year, as well as other benefits including improved accommodations and bonuses for international matches. The demands were part of larger bargaining that included the men’s national team and A-League players, and the Football Federation Australia at one point claimed the Matildas were being used as a pawn in the negotiations.

But there was a groundswell of support for the women, who have seen their popularity rise in Australia along with the team’s stature on the national stage.

American stars Hope Solo and Carli Lloyd, former player Julie Foudy and Canadian forward Christine Sinclair were among those who expressed support for the Australians. There were change.org petitions to support the team.

“The Matildas are courageously fighting for what is right. (hashtag) priclessrolemodels,” Lloyd posted to Twitter.

The deal that was eventually struck in November included a pay structure that puts the salaries for top players at $30,700 per year and those at the next level at $22,400. The contract calls for a 10 percent raise each year and improved bonuses and other benefits.

“Our elite female players deserve a full-time professional career path in football and this agreement represents a solid foundation we can build on,” players’ association chief executive Adam Vivian said at the time.

Striker Kyah Simon said the move made the team stronger.

“The Matildas’ story is standing up for what we believe in and standing up for our brand and our culture. I think at the end of the day it brought the team closer together,” Simon said. “It’s something we can look on with pride, and something that’s hopefully a positive future for our sport and for the new generation of players.”

The victory came well before a group of U.S. women’s national team players filed a complaint with the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission alleging wage discrimination. The women claim they make far less on average than their male national team counterparts. The complaint in late March came as the players seek a new collective bargaining agreement with U.S. Soccer.

Heading into the Olympics, the Matildas are ranked No. 5 in the world.

They leapfrogged Japan and Korea in the AFC qualification tournament to earn the trip to Rio along with China – scoring 17 goals in five matches.

Australia is in a tough group in Brazil that includes No. 2 Germany, No. 10 Canada and Zimbabwe. It is the only group with three teams ranked in the top 10. The top-ranked Americans play in a group that includes No. 3 France, New Zealand and Colombia.

Australia opens the tournament on Wednesday against Canada in Sao Paulo.

“After the World Cup everything sort of started to change. When we came home there was so much media attention and so many people that were interested in what we were doing and really proud of the success we had,” Catley said of the team’s rising profile. “I think people always knew there was a national team, but I don’t think they realized how high in the rankings we were and how much better we were getting as a team.”

Conte: “I don’t know” if Diego Costa will be a Chelsea player this season

VELDEN, AUSTRIA - JULY 20: Diego Costa of Chelsea looks on during the friendly match between WAC RZ Pellets and Chelsea F.C. at Worthersee Stadion on July 20, 2016 in Velden, Austria. (Photo by Srdjan Stevanovic/Getty Images)
Photo by Srdjan Stevanovic/Getty Images
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Antonio Conte sent “silly season” into overdrive (all over again) when he admitted on Saturday that he himself doesn’t know whether or not Diego Costa will remain a Chelsea player this season.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s PL coverage ]

Speaking after his side’s 3-2 defeat at the hands of Real Madrid in the International Champions Cup, Chelsea’s first-year manager confirmed the reason for Costa’s continued absence this preseason — an injury — but went on to say the Brazilian-turned-Spaniard’s club future remains up in the air just 14 days before the 2016-17 Premier League season kicks off — quotes from the Sun:

“I can say that today Costa is a Chelsea player. He didn’t play in these games because of injury and if he solves the injury and I see in training he’s in good shape it can be possible to see him in the next game against Milan. But I can tell only this.

“I speak for today and today Costa is Chelsea’s player. Tomorrow if you ask me if Costa will remain with us, I don’t know.”

Costa, who signed for Chelsea from Atletico Madrid two summers ago, has regularly been linked with a return to the Spanish capital. However, Atleti announced on Saturday the signing of Sevilla striker Kevin Gameiro, who scored 68 goals in three seasons (all competitions) with the three-time defending Europa League winners, reportedly for nearly $40 million.

[ MORE: Zlatan scored a ridiculous scissor-kick goal on his debut ]

Atleti would hardly be the only suitors for a goal-getter who has netted 32 times in two seasons in the Premier League, including 20 times in 26 games during his 2014-15 debut campaign.