What to watch this weekend? FA Cup takes center stage as leagues around the world resume

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It’s one of the small inconveniences you accept when you buy into European soccer. Every once in a while, leagues stop for cup competitions that just don’t have the same resonance. Copa del Rey, Coppa Italia, DFB Pokal – they’re all synonyms for “not an actual league game,” especially at a point in the calendar when unbalanced matches often find the most interesting players on the bench. Some viewers have their fan’s stake in a match, but it’s difficult for most around the world to invest in an FA Cup maelstrom without a more intimate attachment.

That maelstrom takes center stage this weekend, with 32 matches making up the competition’s third round proper (as opposed to those rude qualifying rounds). It’s the point of the competition where Premier League clubs drop in, so while there are a number of Aldershot Town and Rotterdam United fixtures that won’t turn your eyes, there are a few points in intrigue amid the tumult.

Here are a few matches to keep in mind as you search for your fix, and if cup competition in England isn’t your thing, I’ve thrown in some matches from the continent (with Spain, Italy, and Mexico’s leagues all restarting this weekend):

In England – FA Cup matches to watch

Brighton & Hove Albion vs. Newcastle United (Saturday, 7:30 a.m. Eastern) – We’re starting to hear questions from Tyneside about Alan Pardew’s suitability for the Toon’s job. While he undoubtedly did well for the Magpies last year, the 2012-13 season’s been a disappointment, with Pardew’s talented (if injured) team only two points from the relegation zone.

On the other bench, Brighton’s Gus Poyet is one of the up-and-coming names in England’s managerial circles. Last year he send Newcastle out of this competition in the fourth round. If he repeats the feat this year, Newcastle owner Mike Ashley should give Poyet Pardew’s seat on the ride back north.

Manchester City vs. Watford (Saturday, 10:00 a.m. Eastern) – This will only be an good game if Manchester City’s second stringers and kids (the likes of Scott Sinclair, Maicon, Karim Rekik) fall on their faces, but the contrasts in ownership are interesting.

Manchester City is owned by a Sheikh that would build a stadium on a cloud and fly supporters to matches on hovercraft if he could. Watford is essentially the Double A club for Udinese – a reserve of players for Italian businessman Giampaolo Pozzo.

The only similarity between the teams may be their managers. Both Roberto Mancini (Manchester City) and Gianfranco Zola (Watford, pictured) are former Italian internationals. Mancini was capped 36 times. Zola: 35.

Southampton vs. Chelsea (Saturday, 10:00 a.m. Eastern) – One of four third round meetings between Premier League clubs, Chelsea’s trip to St. Mary’s only becomes important if they lose. That’s is a real possibility, given some of Chelsea’s recent, inconsistent results (low, high, low).

Swansea City vs. Arsenal (Sunday, 8:30 a.m. Eastern) – Swansea has a two-match winning streak against Arsenal, including Dec. 1’s 2-0 win at Emirates Stadium. Arsenal’s already bowed out of the League Cup, and with this tough draw, the Gunners could see the early confirmation of another trophy-less season.

Here’s a full list of the weekend’s fixtures.

Elsewhere

Napoli vs. Roma (Sunday, 2:45 p.m. Eastern) – Zdenek Zeman has Roma clicking, the Giallorossi claiming 24 points in their last 10 games. They’re only two points behind fifth place Napoli for what could be Italy’s final European spot.

Between Roma’s league-leading attack (42 goals in 18 games) and the presence of Edinson Cavani and Marek Hamsik (as well as the absence of suspended defender Paolo Cannavaro), this could turn into a shootout.

Barcelona vs. Espanyol (Sunday, 1:00 p.m. Eastern) – It’s derby day in Catalonia, with Spain’s eventual champions facing an inner-city rival slowly climbing out of the relegation zone. Former Mexican national team coach Javier Aguirre has Espanyol up to 18th after a four-match unbeaten streak, a run that will come to an end on Sunday.

Chivas vs. Toluca (Sunday, 6:00 p.m. Eastern) – Liga MX starts their Clausura this weekend, but Guadalajara’s already playing to type. The Goats fired head coach John Van’t Schip last night, a move that’d been coming ever since the club parted was with Johan Cruyff (who had been serving as a special advisor). Benjamin Galindo has two days to prepare his new team for a visit from the Apertura’s regular season champions.

Usain Bolt claims he’s signed with professional team

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A former world-record sprinter is set to take his opportunity as a soccer player, however, he won’t reveal which club just yet.

[ MORE: Three things from Man City’s Carabao Cup triumph ]

Jamaican athlete Usain Bolt revealed on Sunday that he has signed a contract with a professional side, although the 31-year-old wouldn’t state which club or where the side resides.

The veteran runner retired from track and field last year after winning eight Olympic gold medals in his career.

Bolt has been connected with several major European clubs in the past, including Manchester United — whom he has been a lifelong supporter of — and Borussia Dortmund.

Bolt was set to have a trial with the German side next month, although it’s unlikely that the Jamaican will have that chance now that he’s signed with a team.

Last month, he also trained with South African side Mamelodi Sundown.

Guardiola hails Man City as trophy haul begins

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LONDON — Trophies were expected to come by the bucket load when Pep Guardiola arrived at Manchester City in the summer of 2016.

It has taken deep into his second season to deliver his first piece of silverware, but Guardiola secured the League Cup trophy in resounding fashion as Man City hammered Arsenal 3-0 in the final at Wembley.

[ MORE: 3 things we learned

Speaking after the game, Guardiola admitted the League Cup isn’t at the top of City’s list of priorities as they set their sights on winning the Premier League and UEFA Champions League in the final months of the season.

“It’s important. There are titles more important than this one, but we are so happy. Congratulations to everyone,” Guardiola said. “Big congratulations for all of Manchester City. From Sheikh Mansour to Sheikh Khaldoon until the last person and fan in the club. That is why it is important to win titles because maybe it is going to help us to win the next games in the Premier League to win the league.”

[ MORE: Kompany reacts to League Cup heroics

The Spaniard also played down the importance of his first trophy in England, as much has been made about his expensive rebuild of a City squad already brimming with talent after trophy successes under Roberto Mancini and Manuel Pellegrini.

Guardiola thanked Man City’s owners from Abu Dhabi for sticking by him after a trophyless maiden campaign in England.

“I’m so happy but I am part of Manchester City. Every title we won, we won as a staff in the past. You are part of the group. That is why I am so happy for Manchester City because I cannot forgot how they take care of me last season when it wasn’t so good in terms of results and winning titles,” Guardiola said. “I cannot forgot. I will always remember all the club, Sheikh Khaldoon and all the people who helped to support me. It was so important. That is why Manchester City won.”

Another reason why they won was because City’s veteran core stepped up big time.

After a testing week which saw them lose in the FA Cup at third-tier Wigan, the hopes of an unprecedented quadruple were dashed. They’ll just have to settle for a treble now.

Captain Vincent Kompany was named Man of the Match, scored the crucial second goal and shackled Arsenal’s danger man Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, while Sergio Aguero and David Silva both scored and helped City grab the trophy.

“These three guys plus Yaya [Toure], Joe Hart, Pablo Zabaleta a lot of names, they helped to be what Manchester City is right now,” Guardiola said. “It is special. Sergio, Vincent and David scored the three goals and they help us to understand what it means in the club. They won titles. They put pressure on us to continue to win titles. If you are able to win more titles in the future, the people who are coming here have to know here have to win titles. That’s why it is so so important. Especially for the performance. The first half was not good but the second half Vincent was all over the game, Sergio started amazingly, despite the brilliant goal the way he played, and in the second half David came back to how he normally is.”

Kevin De Bruyne, the star of City’s season so far, has now switched the focus to sealing the PL title as quickly as possible and focusing on delivering the Champions League.

“We have had a good season already, and now we need to keep going,” De Bruyne said. “We have this one in the bag and now we have to maintain the same focus in the Premier League and the Champions League. The potential for this club is amazing, and the way we play is probably one of the best in the world.”

Guardiola is now off and running in terms of trophies and you get the sense this is just the start.

Schalke wins 2-0 at Leverkusen to move 3rd in Bundesliga

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BERLIN (AP) Nabil Bentaleb‘s late penalty sealed a 2-0 win for Schalke at 10-man Bayer Leverkusen, lifting his team to third in the Bundesliga on Sunday.

Leverkusen was left to rue Dominik Kohr’s sending off in the first half as the home side missed the chance to go second and instead dropped to fifth, outside the Champions League qualification places.

[ MORE: Man City 3-1 Arsenal | 3 things ]

Guido Burgstaller fired the visitors into an early lead after a long ball over the top from Daniel Caligiuri. The Schalke forward did well to lift the ball over Leverkusen defender Panagiotis Retsos before dispatching past goalkeeper Bernd Leon inside the left post.

Leon Bailey came very close to equalizing with Leverkusen’s best chance of the half, but the hosts took a hit shortly before the break when Kohr was sent off with his second yellow card for a late tackle, minutes after earning his first for the same.

Leverkusen coach Heiko Herrlich brought on Argentine forward Lucas Alario after the break, and then went all out with two more forwards, Stefan Kiessling and Karim Bellarabi, for the closing stages.

However, the best chance fell to Schalke’s Breel Embolo, denied by a brilliant reflex save from Leno.

Retsos brought down Embolo in the penalty area, allowing Bentaleb to seal the win from the spot in the 89th minute.

Leipzig had the chance to go second later Sunday with a win over last-place Cologne.

Kompany felt he’d score, relishes League Cup win after injury troubles

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Vincent Kompany turned in a Man of the Match performance as Manchester City dominated Arsenal to win the League Cup Final by a 3-0 margin on Sunday at Wembley Stadium.

[ MORE: Match recap | 3 things ]

Kompany redirected a goal for City’s second of the day, and had a number of key interventions as he bottled up Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang.

The 31-year-old center back has been through the ringer in recent years, with injuries haunting his seasons. Kompany now has three League Cups, an FA Cup, and two Premier League crowns. From the BBC:

“It was a difficult game, but as much space there was for us and Arsenal, we did well and controlled the space and I am proud of the team. Winning 3-0 at Wembley is a massive result against any opponent.

“Before the game, I thought I was going to score. I came close during the game so there was some luck on the day, but also self-belief.

“I have been in the game for 15 years and I have been training well and supporting the lads when I don’t play. When I get the call I want to do the job.”