Roundup, Premier League: Marouane Fellaini one of England’s best?

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Had somebody told Paul Lambert at the beginning of the day that his team would get a point from Everton, the Aston Villa manager would have probably been happy, but giving up a 3-1 lead to be drawn late, the Villans’ 3-3 result against fourth place Everton ends up as a missed opportunity. It also means they stay in the drop zone.

One of the signings of the summer, 22-year-old Belgian Christian Benteke, had Villa up two after this 61st minute goal completed his double. Swapped goals from Everton’s Victor Anichebe and Villa captain Gabriel Agbonlahor rounded out the scoring before another Belgian, Everton’s Marouane Fellaini, stepped forward. Goals in 69th and 93rd minute salvaged a point for the Toffees.

In the big picture, the result was a disappointing one for Everton, but in digging themselves out of a hole, the Toffees gave us another chance to see how valuable  Fellaini’s become. The versatile Belgian started in a deep midfield role before David Moyes’ substitutions pushed him to the advanced role he’s played most of the season. Once a double substitution moved there in the 65th minute, Fellaini payed almost immediate dividends.

Now up to 10 goals this season, it’s worth asking who has had a better Premier League campaign this season. Robin van Persie (18) and Luis Suárez (17) have  more goals, but Fellaini has made greater contributions in almost every other facet of the game (save possibly setting up goals, which is important). He plays a more valuable defensive hole, has greater value on set pieces, and his versatility has significant tactical value.

Is Fellaini better than van Persie or Suárez, in the absolute sense? Probably not. Has he been better within league this season? Perhaps.

Elsewhere in England

Queens Park Rangers 0-0 Norwich City – QPR started strong before Norwich came into the match. The 0-0 was  just. Christopher Samba was decent in his QPR debut, but for a Rangers team so deep in the drop, anything but three in these types of matches is ultimately a failure.

Arsenal 1-0 Stoke City – A late Lukas Podolski pushed Arsenal even on points with Everton. Geoff Cameron got a rare start in midfield as Tony Pulis tried to clog the middle of the park, but the match played out exactly as you would expect a meeting between these two styles. Arsenal eventually got some luck when a deflected free kick gave them the match’s only goal, but the score was a result of resiliency as much as fortune. Nacho Monreal had a predictably impressive debut.

Reading 2-1 Sunderland – The Royals have now taken 10 points from their last four games after Jimmy Kebe bookended the match with goals in the seventh and 85th minutes. “We’ve been on a really steep learning curve but we are finding ways to win games now,” Brian McDermott said post-match. Sunderland’s only score came from the spot half-way through the first. Reading, after struggling into 2013, after two points clear of the drop.

West Ham United 1-0 Swansea – If West Ham had hit a wall, Andy Carroll just pushed them through it. The loanee’s 77th minute goal coupled with Swansea’s continued goal scoring problems give the Hammers a number needed victory, ending a six-match winless run.

Wigan Athletic 2-2 Southampton – The match gave spectators the promised goals, but Lactics supporters would have liked to avoid needing a Shaun Maloney extra time goal to take a point from a match where they may have been expecting three. Saints stay three points clear.

Newcastle 3-2 Chelsea

Fulham 0-1 Manchester United

Tomorrow: West Bromwich Albion vs. Tottenham Hotspur; Manchester City vs. Liverpool

Report: Mourinho to get bumper $89 million extension at Man Utd

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Jose Mourinho is in the third month of his second season in charge of Manchester United, and may join Antonio Conte as men to get a second contract early in his term.

Goal.com says Paris Saint-Germain’s interest in Mourinho will spur United chairman Ed Woodward into action.

Unlike Conte, who received improved terms and the same length at Chelsea, the report says Mourinho will get a new five-year deal.

[ MORE: Yaya Toure to NYCFC? ]

The report says Mourinho’s terms would be worth almost $89 million over the length of the deal, close to $18 million per season.

The 54-year-old has never spent more than four years at a club, his longest stay as an assistant as Barcelona. Last season, he won the Europa League and League Cup for United while finishing sixth in the Premier League.

This season, United is off to a second-place start, leading Spurs on goal differential following a first loss of the season Saturday at Huddersfield Town.

This is about money and security for Mourinho who, let’s face it, probably won’t stay at United for five seasons. It would go against his record, and it’s difficult to imagine he’ll buck his career trend and make it five years. The new deal would be a raise, keep him from PSG for now, and probably will do the trick.

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Report: Yaya Toure lined up by New York City FC

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There are few details, but a report tabbed as exclusive by The Manchester Evening News says a new midfield force could be headed to Major League Soccer.

Yaya Toure’s resurgent 2016-17 has not been followed by a busy 2017-18, at least not yet, as the report says Yaya is set to head to New York City FC following the departure of Andrea Pirlo.

[ MORE: Koeman fired | Who’s in line? ]

Toure, who turns 35 in May, has regularly been on the subs bench for Pep Guardiola this season after signing a one-year contract. He’s played 29 minutes as a sub over the last two Premier League matches, and his lone start came in a League Cup win over West Brom, where he captained City.

Toure has 59 goals and 33 assists in 222 Premier League matches.

The Ivorian is not a pace monger, but neither were Frank Lampard and Steven Gerrard and both were effective when healthy in MLS. Toure’s powerful presence in the midfield could be worth the wage packet and headache, but we’d pay a penny for Patrick Vieira’s thoughts.

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Italy’s once-vaunted ‘BBC’ defense is showing its age

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ROME (AP) With a combined age of 99, Italy’s once vaunted “BBC” defensive trio is showing its years.

The Azzurri will still rely on Andrea Barzagli, Leonardo Bonucci and Giorgio Chiellini in a World Cup playoff against Sweden next month but the signs in Serie A lately have not been encouraging.

[ MORE: Koeman fired | Who’s in line? ]

Bonucci’s red card with AC Milan over the weekend was the latest in a series of poor performances after his high-profile transfer from Juventus made him the highest-paid player in Italy.

Chiellini and Barzagli were beaten for goals twice by Ciro Immobile in Juventus’ 2-1 home loss to Lazio less than 10 days ago, and Chiellini was again off form in the Bianconeri’s 6-2 victory over Udinese on Sunday.

Chiellini was fooled by Stipe Perica for Udinese’s first goal and then left Danilo unmarked to head in another as he appealed for an offside call that never came.

Bonucci is 30, Chiellini is 33 and Barzagli is 36.

While Italy coach Gian Piero Ventura has shown interest in developing new talent, he has shown no indication that he plans to cast aside the “BBC” when it counts.

After all, Italy has historically been slow to incorporate younger players, especially defenders.

[ MORE: MLS Playoff Bracket set ]

That means the likes of Daniele Rugani (who plays for Juventus), Alessio Romagnoli (Milan) or Mattia Caldara (Atalanta) – who are all in their 20s – may have to wait for their chances with the Azzurri.

But Ventura would do well to remember how Marcello Lippi kept Fabio Cannavaro and other veterans in the lineup at the 2010 World Cup only to acknowledge after the first-round exit that he made a mistake and was overly influenced by the older players’ performance en route to the title four years earlier.

From Franco Baresi to Giuseppe Bergomi to Paolo Maldini, Alessandro Nesta, Cannavaro and the “BBC,” strong center backs have been a source of uninterrupted pride for the Azzurri for decades.

Gianluigi Buffon in goal has also provided a security blanket for nearly 20 years but he, too, is approaching the end of his career and will likely retire after this season – or after his record sixth World Cup if Italy qualifies.

Italy’s hopes of avoiding the playoffs were dashed with a debilitating 3-0 loss in Spain last month that offered a first hint of defensive problems. The defeat ended Italy’s 11-year unbeaten run in qualifiers for World Cups and European Championships.

[ MORE: Mbappe named Golden Boy ]

The Azzurri attributed the loss to Spain on Sept. 2 to a lack of physical condition so early in the season.

Bonucci, it was figured, just needed some time to adapt to his new surroundings at Milan.

In July, Bonucci completed a surprise transfer from Juventus, where he clashed with coach Massimiliano Allegri last season and was memorably left in the tribune for a Champions League match at Porto.

The transfer fee topped 40 million euros (nearly $50 million) and Bonucci signed a five-year contract worth up to 10 million euros (nearly $12 million) per season. He was also made captain before he ever wore a Milan shirt.

When Milan started to falter a month ago, physical trainer Emanuele Marra was fired – reportedly in large part because Bonucci demanded better fitness preparation.

But Bonucci was out run by Mauro Icardi on Inter Milan’s first goal when the striker scored a hat trick in a 3-2 derby win eight days ago. He was also to blame for the second, failing to mark Icardi in the area.

Things got even worse for Bonucci when he was sent off in the first half of Milan’s 0-0 draw at home with Genoa on Sunday for elbowing a defender in the head as he jostled for position on a free kick.

[ LIGUE 1: Neymar sent off ]

Bonucci will likely be given a multiple-match ban, which would exclude him from facing Juventus next Sunday and could affect his form for the Nov. 10 and 13 playoffs.

“Leo is a champion,” Buffon said. “He’ll become decisive again. But it makes me feel calmer knowing that we won’t have to face him on Saturday.”

More AP Serie A coverage: https://apnews.com/tag/SerieA

Andrew Dampf on Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/asdampf

MLS Playoff bracket, dates set: Chicago, Vancouver host Tues.

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Major League Soccer’s playoff bracket is set. Our staff predictions are coming Tuesday before the first round match-ups, but here’s what we’ll be watching…

[ MORE: Mbappe named Golden Boy ]

The chase begins with Chicago and the Red Bulls, and San Jose heading to Vancouver. The Quakes drew the ‘Caps just over a week ago, on Oct. 15.

First round
(E3) Chicago vs. (E6) New York Red Bulls — 8:30 p.m. ET Tuesday
(W3) Vancouver vs. (W6) San Jose — 10:30 p.m. ET Tuesday
(E4) Atlanta vs. (E5) Columbus — 7 p.m. ET Wednesday
(W4) Houston vs. (W5) Sporting KC — 9:30 p.m. ET Wednesday

Conference semifinals
(W1) Portland vs.  San Jose, Houston, or Sporting KC
(W2) Seattle vs. Houston, Sporting KC, or Vancouver
(E1) Toronto vs. New York Red Bulls, Atlanta, or Columbus
(E2) New York City vs. Atlanta, Columbus, or Chicago

Conference finals
Eastern Conference — Nov. 21 and Nov. 28 or 29
Western Conference — Nov. 21 and Nov. 30

MLS Cup Final
At finalist with best record — 4 p.m. ET Dec. 9

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