Britain Soccer Premier League

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

Mancini reportedly not interested in Leicester City, De Boer says no

GENOA, ITALY - APRIL 20:  Head Coach of FC Internazionale Roberto Mancini looks during the Serie A match between Genoa CFC and FC Internazionale Milano at Stadio Luigi Ferraris on April 20, 2016 in Genoa, Italy.  (Photo by Pier Marco Tacca/Getty Images)
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Two top candidates to replace Claudio Ranieri at Leicester City have reportedly turned down any interest in the job.

Roberto Mancini, the heavy favorite out of the gates after Ranieri’s dismissal, tweeted his support for Ranieri after the news broke. “I am sorry for my friend Ranieri,” Mancini said. “He will be in the history of LCFC, in the hearts of Leicester fans and all football lovers.”

However, the fellow Italian has rebuffed Leicester’s informal advances towards his services. According to Sky Sports, Leicester sent “intermediaries” to “sound out” Mancini’s feelings towards the position, but came back empty-handed. The report states Mancini was turned off to the club after a short and unsuccessful spell there as a player in 2001.

That leaves a host of other names who have been linked to the job, with no clear favorite. One person mentioned was Dutch legend Frank de Boer, who is unemployed after an unusually short stint in charge of Inter Milan. However, De Boer’s agent went public to say he was not ever in the running.

“There is zero possibility that Frank could go to Leicester,” agent Guido Albers told Italian publication Tuttomercatoweb. “I too heard these rumors, but that’s all they are – rumors. I can affirm without doubt that Frank will not become the Leicester City manager. This will 100 per cent not happen.”

Albers explained that De Boer is only interested in joining a club in the offseason, preferring to enter a project with a blank slate rather than joining midseason with particular goals already clearly laid out. With Leicester, it seems De Boer is turned off by the notion of a relegation battle.

Win over Las Palmas again has La Real on edge of CL spot

GETAFE, SPAIN - DECEMBER 11:  Xavi Prieto of Real Sociedad in action during the La Liga match between Getafe CF and Real Sociedad de Futbol at Coliseum Alfonso Perez stadium on December 11, 2015 in Getafe, Spain.  (Photo by Denis Doyle/Getty Images)
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All it took was one mistake. Real Sociedad’s Xabi Prieto capitalized, and has La Real once again on the verge of next year’s Champions League.

La Real finished 7th in 2013/14, and 9th in 2015/16, and this year, they’re closer than ever. Preito’s goal on the mistake by Las Palmas goalkeeper Javi Varas gave Real Sociedad the 1-0 road win and has them just a point off a Champions League place.

[ MORE: Antonio Conte pulling from experience to keep Chelsea on top ]

That could be even closer next week, as fourth-placed Atletico Madrid has to welcome Barcelona to the Calderon tomorrow, leaving the door open for La Real to make another move next weekend.

The goal down the stretch is not just to win the games they should, but make the teams above them work. La Real has won seven of their last ten matches, but the three losses came to Real Madrid, Villareal, and Sevilla, all teams fighting at the top of the table. They still have chances down the stretch, with matches against Atletico Madrid, Barcelona, Sevilla, and Eibar coming up, with the latter on the docket next weekend.

Conte pulling from prior experience as title race pushes on

WOLVERHAMPTON, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 18: Antonio Conte, Manager of Chelsea looks on during The Emirates FA Cup Fifth Round match between Wolverhampton Wanderers and Chelsea at Molineux on February 18, 2017 in Wolverhampton, England.  (Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)
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Antonio Conte has recalled some painful memories to push himself and his players forward despite their commanding lead at the top of the Premier League table.

Chelsea sits eight points clear of Manchester City, and has the chance to go even further in front with many of the top teams off this weekend, but that won’t give the Italian any better sleep at night.

In the 1999/2000 season, Conte was nearing the end of his 13-year Juventus tenure. He’d won three league titles already, plus two league cup trophies and a Champions League title with the Serie A giants. With a comfortable nine point lead after 26 matches, the club became complacent. They would lose four of their final eight matches, collapsing on the final day in the pouring rain, allowing Lazio to come roaring back to win the title.

[ MORE: JPW’s Premier League picks for Week 26 ]

“I was captain of the team,” Conte said. “I remember after this game I must go to the European Championships with the national team. I didn’t sleep for six days because it was a shock for me to lose the title.”

Clearly, that still haunts him. “I have experienced this,” Conte continued. “When I continue to repeat that there are 13 games, there are 39 points… there is a long time before we can say we won the title. We must be focused, we must go step by step.”

The Blues host Swansea City at Stamford Bridge on Saturday before a trip to West Ham next weekend. If anyone believes the Chelsea players are complacent holding such a significant lead with 13 matches to go, it’s clear that’s not nearly the case. Anything can happen in three months.

Sean Dyche says Joey Barton should have a TV show

BURNLEY, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 18: Joey Barton of Burnley (L) and Matt Rhead of Lincoln City (R) exchange words during The Emirates FA Cup Fifth Round match between Burnley and Lincoln City at Turf Moor on February 18, 2017 in Burnley, England.  (Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images)
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Burnley manager Sean Dyche says Joey Barton‘s life is chock full of fascinating moments, so much so that he should have his own TV show.

Except when he’s behind closed doors at Burnley, of course. Then he’s a stand up individual. Right, sure.

“It could be a TV series,” Dyche said in his pre-match press conference ahead of an away tilt with Hull City. “Being Joey. It’d be interesting. Never a dull moment.”

But of course, immediately after that, Dyche switched gears. “Unless he’s in here, training with me,” he backtracked. “I think it’s pantomime stuff. I’ve seen a lot more controversy around Joey than that. If that’s as far as it goes, I’ll be a happy man.”

“That” referred to Barton’s embarrassing dive in the FA Cup loss to non-league opponents Lincoln City where the midfielder play-acted after nothing more than a brush of the elbow from Matt Rhead, falling to the ground and clutching his head. Barton was involved in a number of heated moments during that match, adding to his already massive list of controversial moments in a mercurial career.

“Joey’s been terrific,” Dyche said. “I thought by a mile, by an absolute mile, he was the best player on the pitch last weekend. So he’s been absolutely fine. He’s in good nick – as you can see – and he’s definitely up for the challenges that come in front of us.”

But word of Joey Barton apparently hasn’t reached London. A few weeks ago, ahead of Chelsea’s 1-1 draw at Burnley on February 12th, Blues manager Antonio Conte was asked if he was familiar with Burnley’s squad and Barton in particular – an admittedly leading question – and Conte was unable to give an immediate answer. He instead asked his press officer muttering, “Joey Barton?” under his breath. The press officer embarrassingly tried to save face before Conte stepped back in giving a generic answer that they had already played once and he was familiar with the squad.