Reading v Fulham - Premier League

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.

MLS Cup: Toronto FC all about the team

Toronto FC defender Nick Hagglund, center, celebrates his goal against the Montreal Impact with teammates Michael Bradley, right, and Steven Beitashour (33) during the second half of the second leg of MLS Eastern Conference championship series, in Toronto on Wednesday, Nov. 30, 2016. (Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press via AP)
Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press via AP
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Toronto, Ontario (AP) Team has been the theme for Toronto FC in the buildup to the MLS Cup final.

From boisterous practices to team-first media interviews, the All for One club motto has been plain to see ahead of the championship game Saturday against the visiting Seattle Sounders.

“You don’t get to this point by mistake or by accident. You get here because a group of special guys who have all bought into a philosophy, an identity,” said Toronto midfielder Will Johnson, an MLS Cup winner with Real Salt Lake and Portland.

“I say the same about Seattle. They’re bought into what they’re good at. We’re bought in, very motivated and want to sacrifice and put aside egos to get to a point as a team to compete for the big trophy.”

[ MORE: Designing the best UCL Round of 16 ]

Star striker Jozy Altidore, no fan of chatting with the media, was downright prickly when a reporter asked him if he had taken time to reflect on his personal journey to the championship game.

“No,” he said definitively. “This isn’t personal, this is a team game. We’re here to try to help Toronto to be a winning team. This has nothing to do with individuals. So it has nothing to do with what I’ve been through. This is what the city’s been through, what the fans have been through, what this club has been through. That’s far more important.”

Fullback Justin Morrow, a seven-year MLS veteran, has never played this deep into the season before.

“Each week we build on top of each other and we get closer as the year goes on. It really feels like it’s a culmination this week,” he said.

[ UCL: Who can Arsenal, Man City, Leicester draw? ]

Coach Greg Vanney has made a point of praising the entire squad, including reserves who function as the scout team in practice. While he has done soccer’s equivalent of shortening his bench for the playoffs, the squad has stayed on point. If anyone has beefs, they have been kept to themselves.

That’s no small feat considering the salaries on the squad range from $7.12 million for star striker Sebastian Giovinco to $51,500 for youngsters Mo Babouli and Tsubasa Endoh.

For Morrow, being part of a tight-knit group allows you to forget that it is your job.

“When teams aren’t doing well, players tend to focus on that – their job and not about the other people on the team,” Morrow said. “And I think when teams are doing well, it becomes about the relationships between the players.”

Report: Atlanta United to acquire Parkhurst; Guardado hopes fading

COLUMBUS, OH - MARCH 12:  Michael Parkhurst #4 of the Columbus Crew SC controls the ball against against the Philadelphia Union on March 12, 2016 at MAPFRE Stadium in Columbus, Ohio.  (Photo by Jamie Sabau/Getty Images)
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Atlanta United is adding MLS experience to its high-flying international acquisitions.

The expansion side is set to acquire Michael Parkhurst from the Columbus Crew, according to a report from The Sporting News.

[ MORE: Mourinho worried about Zorya pitch ]

Parkhurst, 32, has been a fixture for the Crew since returning to MLS after stints with Nordsjælland and FC Augsburg. The 25-times capped American defender would join a relatively loaded expansion unit that reportedly will also add veteran Chicago goalkeeper Sean Johnson.

Unfortunately for Atlanta, it seems the first-year club’s hopes of landing Mexican star Andres Guardado are fading.

From Ives Galarcep for The Sporting News:

The club has one remaining designated player slot it is expected to fill ahead of its inaugural 2017 season, but transfer target Andres Guardado appears less likely to be the player to fill that slot, sources have told Goal USA.

The Crew was a massive disappointment last season, failing to make the playoffs one season after making a run to the MLS Cup Final. Is Parkhurst a good gamble for Atlanta?

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Men in Blazers podcast: Conte v. Pep, Cherries comeback, Spurs-Swans

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Rog and Davo relive the tactical battle between Antonio Conte and Pep Guardiola, marvel at tiny Bournemouth’s comeback win over high-flying Liverpool and duck-and-cover while recapping Spurs 5-0 Swansea.

All of the MiB content — pods, videos and stories can be seen here, but to really stay in touch, follow, subscribe, click here:

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Mourinho accepts Zorya compliment, but says best coach “doesn’t exist”

Manchester United's coach Jose Mourinho, centre, attends a training session with his team at Chernomorets stadium in Odessa, Ukraine, Wednesday, Dec. 7, 2016, ahead of Thursday's Europa League group A soccer match against FC Zorya Luhansk. (AP Photo/Efrem Lukatsky)
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On the eve of his side playing Manchester United in the UEFA Europa League, Zorya Luhansk boss Yuriy Vernydub called counterpart Jose Mourinho the best manager in the world.

And Mourinho disagreed.

Well, in principle.

[ MORE: Designing the best UCL Round of 16 ]

The Portuguese was flattered by Vernydub’s compliments and isn’t one to turn down praise. Yet at the same time, Mourinho thinks a coach’s success is year-to-year. There’s no clear best in the sport, according to Mou.

From ManUtd.com:

“He was nice by saying that but I don’t think he is right. I don’t think there is a best coach in the world. It doesn’t exist in my opinion. Every season one has to win the FIFA Gold Ball but I don’t think there is the best. You can say the best of the year and that I agree. Every year there is one with the most important result. So he is just being nice, no more than that.”

That’s almost meta, Mou.

Conceptually we understand, and Mourinho would feel he was the best in the world three seasons ago but not last year or this year (yet). Yet it’s difficult to say that the bodies of work from Pep Guardiola, Mourinho, Carlo Ancelotti, Unai Emery, Antonio Conte, Luis Enrique, and Jurgen Klopp couldn’t be measured against each other, right?

[ MORE: United, Saints advancement scenarios ]

Onto the little picture Mourinho is worried about a potentially rock hard pitch at Zorya affecting the game. This, from the BBC:

“The pitch is very hard, the pitch is very icy,” said United boss Mourinho.

“They are putting warmth on the top of it, but the pitch is very difficult and people cannot make miracles. Let’s hope everything goes well.”

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