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.

Conte praises Hazard’s style, wouldn’t want him to be “more selfish”

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Antonio Conte made two bold decisions on Saturday afternoon as his Chelsea side prepared to take on Tottenham in their FA Cup semifinal.

[ MORE: Oriol Romeu shines with Saints as he prepares for Chelsea return ]

The Italian manager has been known for his innovation and risk-taking in the past, but many were critical of the 47-year-old when his team sheet came out ahead of the match.

Conte left key attacking duo Eden Hazard and Diego Costa on the bench, allowing out-of-favor striker Michy Batshuayi and Pedro to get the starting nod.

Although Hazard nor Costa saw the field for the opening hour, the former made his presence known when he was summoned by Conte in the second half.

Often times Hazard has been known as a facilitator, someone that can pick apart defenses with his tremendous foot skills and clever passing. But the Belgian international has also shown his capabilities of scoring on a regular basis as well, which has prompted great interest from other giant clubs around Europe.

When Conte was asked about Hazard and if his attacker should be more selfish, the Italian gave an emphatic “NO” as his response.

“No, no, no, absolutely not,” Conte said. “I don’t think that a player like Messi is a selfish player. The first target for every great champion is to play for the team and to put your talent into the team. If you do this, the team [increases] your talent.

“The best players in the world don’t exist without a team. For me, it’s sad to listen to this, that a player must ‘be more selfish’ to reach the top level. That’s very sad. It’s not my idea of football and I will never understand this. Never, never. In my team, I don’t want selfish players.

“I prefer to lose a game than to have a selfish player. For me, I don’t want this and I can’t accept this. I don’t want my club to buy me a selfish player one day. Never. No.”

Newcastle joins Brighton in promotion to Premier League

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Two sides have now booked their trips to England’s top flight after Newcastle United rattled off its 27th win of the season.

[ MORE: Oriol Romeu — The perfectly poised destroyer ]

The Magpies earned a decisive 4-1 victory over Preston North End on Monday afternoon at St. James’ Park as the second-place side ensured its finish inside the top two in the English Championship.

Newcastle joins already-promoted club Brighton & Hove Albion, who currently sit atop the Championship on 92 points.

Ayoze Perez paced the hosts with goals on both sides of halftime, while Christian Atsu and Matt Ritchie also converted for Newcastle.

U.S. Men’s National Team defender DeAndre Yedlin was on the bench for the Magpies but didn’t feature in Monday’s match.

The third and final team to be promoted from the Championship will be decided by the league’s annual promotion playoff, which is held at the end of the season and contested by four sides that finish third through sixth position.

As it stands, Reading, Sheffield Wednesday, Huddersfield Town and Fulham occupy the four playoff positions.

Marseille making Olivier Giroud top transfer target this summer

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Marseille did well to bring in one star this season but could the French side have another trick up its sleeve this summer?

Sky Sports is reporting that the Ligue 1 club is preparing to sign Arsenal striker Olivier Giroud over the summer and the sixth-place side is “willing to pay up to £20m (roughly $25 million).

Marseille made a splash this season when the club re-signed Dimitri Payet, who was playing with Premier League side West Ham at the time.

The team does boast several quality attacking options such as Payet and Bafetimbi Gomis, but Giroud could serve as an ideal target man in the Marseille attack.

Prior to joining the Gunners in 2012, Giroud starred for Montpellier and with a potential link-up in the attack with a creator like Payet, it could present a dangerous attacking threat to the rest of Ligue 1.

Giroud, 30, has scored 95 goals in all competitions since arriving in London with Arsenal.

Report: Chicharito talks heating up with Los Angeles FC

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We’ve seen MLS teams make major splashes in the past, and one of next year’s newcomers could be a really big draw if they can manage to seal the deal on a Mexican international.

[ MORE: Schweinsteiger shares thoughts on MLS and more in interview ]

According to Metro New York, Los Angeles FC is continuing its talks with Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez about a potential deal that would prove massive in terms of MLS spending.

While LAFC won’t debut in MLS until 2018, the club could potentially make the Mexico striker the highest-paid player in league history with an average salary of roughly $10 million.

The 28-year-old Hernandez currently plays in Germany with Bundesliga side Bayer Leverkusen, where he’s plied his trade since joining the club during the 2015/16 season.

Additionally, the former Manchester United man has dominated the international scene for El Tri, scoring 46 goals in 90 appearances for the CONCACAF nation.