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Offshore drilling, England: Manchester United 3, at Chelsea 2

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Man of the MatchJuan Mata provided another entrancing display, fulling validating a week’s worth of media hype anointing him the season’s best player. From an amazingly curled free kick goal in the 44th, to his cross in the buildup to Chelsea’s 53rd minute equalizer, to his constant stressing of Manchester United’s defense, Mata turned around what initially looked destined to be a lopsided affair.

Mata’s October contributions may have finally surpassed Eden Hazard’s early season results. Even if he’s still playing catchup, Chelsea has the Premier League’s two best performers of the (still young) 2012-13 season. 

Packaged for takeaway:

  • Two huge Sunday matches, two games overshadowed by the officiating. Whereas the Everton-Liverpool match saw one late call determine the result, Mark Clattenburg and crew provided two talking points for us content-hungry keyboard jockeys.
  • With Chelsea already down a man (Branislav Ivanovic uncontroversially shown red in the 63rd after running through a goal-bound Ashley Young), Fernando Torres was given a second yellow card (68′) for exaggerating a foul by Jonny Evans. At the time, the score was 2-2.
  • Two interpretations of the play – where Torres appears to be brought down after playing a ball behind Evans – with most people critical of Clattenburg.
    • The first: There was contact, it was a foul, so Torres shouldn’t have been carded. Clattenburg ARRRRGGGH!
    • The second: Foul or not, Torres was guilty of simulation, exaggerating the effect of the contact.
  • There’s no doubt Torres did just that. The problem: Evans wasn’t whistled, Torres was shown off, and onlookers were left to wonder what Clattenburg was thinking.
  • There is a huge, hypocritical tension here. There are constant complains about diving, and without a doubt, Torres dived to one degree or another. He exaggerated for the purpose of drawing a foul. Yet there’s general consternation over Clattenburg’s call, mostly because Evans made some contact with Torres. But if the problem with diving is the ethics behind it – the deceit, exaggeration, simulation of it all – then Torres should have been booked. No doubt, no debate under that standard. So which way do we want it? Because when decisions a binary and Clattenburg has to give a yes-no, it can’t go both ways.
  • Fine print: Don’t dive when you’re carrying a yellow card!
  • Three minutes after Torres left, Javier Hernández (having just been brought on for Tom Cleverley) put home a pass from Rafael from an offside position. The play stood, and Manchester United had their first win in 10 years at Stamford Bridge.
  • Before Blues started being dismissed, the match was split into two halves: Thirty minutes of United dominance followed by a half-hour of Chelsea control.
  • Manchester United played the best soccer of the Premier League season over the first third. Their passing was impeccable, their attacks were decisive and destroyed Chelsea’s defense, and we finally saw the devastating effect the speed of Antonio Valencia and Ashley Young can have with Robin Van Persie and Wayne Rooney through the middle. Who knows how potent this team can be when Shingi Kagawa returns?
  • The first goal was a perfect example. Van Perise and Young had switched, leaving “RVP” wide left. A turnover on Chelsea’s left allowed Young to burst between Chelsea defenders before Rooney hit him at the edge of the attacking third. Young laid it of for Rooney, pulled the defense with him as he ran toward goal, leaving an open area for van Persie. Rooney found him, RVP putting his shot off the post and David Luiz for a fourth minute goal.
  • The second goal, nine minutes later, was very similar. Rafael and Valencia blew through their right thanks to a poor read from Ashley Cole. The United winger was able to hit van Persie as his teammate dropped back from the defense, a right-footed shot into the middle of goal giving United a 2-0 lead.
  • As is there tendency, United let up, willing to let Chelsea control the game. Based on the first half hour, this should have been fine. United’s 4-1-4-1 defensive shape gave them a line across midfield that prevented Chelsea from connecting with their Eden Hazard-Oscar-Juan Mata level.
  • United look vulnerable on crosses, however, with Gary Cahill missing a chance off a corner. With the control Chelsea had over the game, it was a matter of time before the home side broke through.
  • Rooney helped him out. A misguided takedown of Hazard at the edge of the arc gave Mata too much of David de Gea’s goal. When the United keeper took a step left before Mata aimed to his right, he had no chance to stop a shot put into the side-netting. Minutes before halftime, Chelsea had got United’s lead in half.
  • Coming out the break, Chelsea made a crucial adjustment, having Oscar drop behind Manchester United’s midfielders to pick up the ball from Ramires and John Obi Mikel. As a result, Chelsea dominated the opening of the second half, exploiting United’s fullbacks, eventually creating a goal after crosses from Mata to Oscar to the goal-scorer, Ramires.
  • Ten minutes later, the match changed again. Ivanovic was off, and Chelsea was on their way to their first loss of the season.
  • For each team, it was a very mixed performance. Put the last 30, chaotic minutes aside and look at the first two-thirds. Over the first half hour, United looked like the best team in England. Through the middle third, Chelsea made the beginning seem a fluke. While Chelsea’s defense showed an alarming vulnerability, United again displayed a willingness to concede control of a match they should dominate.
  • Despite the loss, Chelsea maintains the lead in England. One point behind them: the Manchesters.

Seven unheralded stars of this Premier League season

during the Barclays Premier League match between A.F.C. Bournemouth and Tottenham Hotspur at Vitality Stadium on October 25, 2015 in Bournemouth, England.
Photo by Jordan Mansfield/Getty Images
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Look, it’s been a crazy year in the Premier League. Leicester City is top by five points, Chelsea is a bottom-half side, and not one of the league’s top three scorers hails from a team in last season’s Top Four.

So it follows that among the league’s other statistical leaders — advanced and traditional — are some surprisingly shining stars.

[ MORE: West Ham 3-2 Liverpool | Coutinho’s slick free kick ]

Or at least they aren’t mentioned a ton. We plan to rectify that here. By no means do we claim these statistical leaders without fault this season, but hats off to the good they’ve done (or, in some cases, the pain they’ve felt).

Most saves in a starring role

You wouldn’t know it from the goal totals these past few weeks, but Stoke City’s Jack Butland has been playing otherworldly between the sticks. His 87 saves lead the Premier League, and the Potters would be in the thick of a relegation battle if he hadn’t shone as brightly.

Ironman

Eleven players have played every minute of their side’s Premier League campaign this season (a 12th, Gareth Barry, has played all but one). Four of those 11 are goalkeepers, and six more are defenders. The only midfielder? Bournemouth’s South African standout Andrew Surman (above).

Top thief, too

Surman is also the league leader in interceptions with 92. The next seven players on the list, headed by Chris Smalling, are all defenders.

The most under-appreciated of the underdogs

Kante (Mark Thompson / Getty Images)

Leicester City has been fantastic, and people are quick to name Riyad Mahrez and Jamie Vardy as big parts of the table-topping effort at King Power Stadium. Then, perhaps they’ll say something about goalkeeper Kaspar Schmeichel or defender Wes Morgan.

But how about the Premier League’s leader in tackles. Midfielder N'Golo Kante (right) has 115 tackles, 12 more than second-best Yohan Cabaye of Crystal Palace.

An all-expense paid journey to the massage parlor for…

Five players have been fouled more than 50 times this year, and you need to be around the ball a lot for that to happen. The four also-rans are Southampton’s Sadio Mane, Swansea City’s Andre Ayew, Everton’s Ross Barkley and Mahrez, but the man who deserved to skip to the head of the ice bath line is from Crystal Palace: Wilfried Zaha has been fouled 59 times. And that’s the amount of times the foulers were caught in the act.

Let Newcastle United’s captain climb in second, though; Fabricio Coloccini‘s 47 blocked shots are eight more than runners-up Neil Taylor (Swans) and Christian Fuchs (Leicester).

A man possessed

He hasn’t been heralded like a year ago, and most witnesses would tell you the midfielder’s been playing much worse. No, touches don’t equal success, but Cesc Fabregas‘ 2,027 credited touches are 74 more than the next player despite the fact that he’s the only player in the top four to have started less than 25 matches. He’s also completed 83 more passes than the closest competitor (Surman).

All-around stars

Advanced stats site Squawka uses an algorithm to generate statistics on who just might be the most complete player in the Premier League.

It’s certainly not foolproof, but the best player per-90 minutes would likely surprise you: Mousa Dembele of Spurs (Minimum 15 matches).

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As for who’s produced the most when numbers are averaged out over the entire game, one man rises to the top: Ross Barkley.

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Oft-targeted in the Premier League, Carvalho extends deal at Lisbon

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William Carvalho has been running through the rumor mill for ages, and Sporting Lisbon has made sure they’ll get their due if he ever stops somewhere else.

The Angola-born Portuguese defensive midfielder with 15 caps has extended his contract with Sporting through 2020, a date that carries him through his 28th birthday.

[ MORE: West Ham 3-2 Liverpool | Coutinho’s slick free kick ]

Carvalho is 23 now, and has been linked with loads of big name clubs from Manchester United to Chelsea, Arsenal to PSG.

His new buyout clause is said to be as high as $53 million, and Carvalho hopes his commitment calms his supporters.

“Sportinguistas, I say to you that I am very happy with the deal which I signed up to 2020 and that you will have total effort on my part to be champions.”

Sporting is tied with Benfica atop the Portuguese table, second on goal differential. The club leads third-place Porto by six points, and is still alive in the Europa League. Bayer Leverkusen is up next.

Klinsmann hints at Euro-heavy roster for World Cup qualifiers

FOXBORO, MA - SEPTEMBER 08:  Danny Williams #14 of the United States looks on before an international friendly against Brazil at Gillette Stadium on September 8, 2015 in Foxboro, Massachusetts.  (Photo by Billie Weiss/Getty Images)
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If your favorite Major League Soccer players don’t make the cut for Jurgen Klinsmann’s next roster, don’t think you won’t see them in the red, white and blue this summer.

[ JPW: What’s the best XI for USMNT’s World Cup qualifiers? ]

Perhaps it’ll be different for the players who were a part of January camp — stars Lee Nguyen and Steve Birnbaum chief among them — but Klinsmann says the late start of the MLS season can affect fitness for the critical qualifiers home and away to Guatemala.

That means there’s a better chance to see in-form Championship midfielder Danny Williams (above) or Pachuca’s Omar Gonzalez then, say, Orlando City’s Brek Shea or Real Salt Lake’s Kyle Beckerman.

From USSoccer.com:

“We are basically looking all over the place. We monitor all the players in Europe. We monitor all the players in Mexico, and obviously we can’t wait until MLS starts as well. It’s really kind of crucial that we see everybody getting in the best shape possible, everybody getting into a rhythm and making statements.

“Then you say, ‘Is the roster you see at the end of March the same one as Copa America?’ Probably not. The end of March comes early for MLS players. The European players are in the full swing, and also Mexican players because they started already a month ago with Liga MX. So we’ll be monitoring everyone.”

We’ve already covered the obstacle that is the CONCACAF-CONMEBOL Olympic qualifying playoff occurring at the same time as the Guatemala matches, but this is still good news for players in England, Germany and other European locales seeking caps in March.

Klopp on struggling Benteke: “He wants to score and we need him to score”

LONDON, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 09:  Christian Benteke of Liverpool reacts as he foiled by goalkeeper Darren Randolph of West Ham United during the Emirates FA Cup Fourth Round Replay match between West Ham United and Liverpool at Boleyn Ground on February 9, 2016 in London, England.  (Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images)
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Jurgen Klopp had his appendix removed this weekend, but it’s doubtful he’s feeling as sore as his big Belgian striker.

Christian Benteke had the opportunity to put himself in the good graces of Liverpool fans with a number of decent chances in Tuesday’s FA Cup loss to West Ham, but couldn’t get the job done.

[ MORE: Match recap | Watch Coutinho’s slick free kick ]

In one case, Benteke put himself in a prime spot only to lash his shot wide of the post. Instead, he’s now at 11 appearances without a goal (despite ripping nine shots against the Irons).

From the BBC:

“I don’t believe in the easy goal. He has to carry on like this. It’s not the nicest moment in his career but he has to work hard. He wants to score and we need him to score. We will work on it in the days, weeks and months.”

Klopp maintained that Liverpool was “the better team” on the night — counterpart Slaven Bilic disagreed — despite conceding a pair of very similar looking goals.

The game could’ve avoided extra time through Benteke’s boots and body, but he couldn’t find his finish again.

The 25-year-old has seen his goal production drop by nearly half since joining from Aston Villa in the summer, and it’s sure to return… just maybe not under Klopp.