Gandalf, Green Power Rangers, and Guy Patterson: Premier League Saturday Review

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Arsenal 3-1 Norwich City

Steve talked about the controversial penalty, a late decision that turned today’s match in Arsenal’s favor. Until that point (85th minute), Michael Turner’s first half goal had held up, with the Champions League-chasing Gunners left pursuing three points they couldn’t afford to lose.

But thanks to goals by Mikel Arteta (from the spot), Olivier Giroud and Lukas Podolski, Arsenal got the result everybody expected – three points that temporarily vault Arsene Wenger’s team into third place:

Pos. Club GP Pts. Pts/G
3 Arsenal 32 59 1.84
4 Chelsea 31 58 1.87
5 Tottenham Hotspur 32 58 1.81
6 Everton 32 55 1.72

Chelsea and Tottenham don’t play in league this weekend, their derby rescheduled with the Blues still alive in the FA Cup.

Still, it’s a three-team race for two spots. Everton’s lingering, but they need two teams to trip over the next month. That’s not going to happen.

Everton 2-0 Queens Park Rangers

Queens Park Rangers are eight points from safety with five to play. This conversation’s no longer interesting. Time for another four-year plan.

As for Everton, it was a good result but no more than you’d expect from a team of their stature – a level that unfortunately is not going to include Champions League soccer. They’ll have to comfort themselves with finishing just outside the top four (again) while being the top-ranked team on Mersey (again).

Welcome to a Toffee-supporters’ purgatory. You can’t ask for more because you know your club’s hamstrung, but you can’t help but pine for those oh so elusive breaks that could finally bring glory to these otherwise strong but fruitless campaigns:

Why can’t an Arsenal, Chelsea, or Spurs collapse coincide with one of our best seasons so we can get back into Champions League? If for no other reason than variety’s sake, so we don’t have to go through this same routine every year, can we just finish fourth one more time? It’s all so monotonous.

source: ReutersReading 0-0 Liverpool

Meet Alex McCarthy. He’s young, he’s English — his favorite Power Ranger’s the green one — and he’s very happy to meet you. You’re not Philippe Coutinho, right? Good, because he’s not happy to meet Coutinho.

(I’m going to conveniently ignore he’s merely punching the ball.)

Based on reaction out of the Maejski Stadium, McCarthy may be your Player of the Week. The 23-year-old keeper (who has been on eight different loans in the last six years) made 11 saves in his first appearance since November. Liverpool put 28 shots toward goal, held 60 percent of the ball, and saw Luis Suárez hit the woodwork. Yet they left Reading with their 11th draw of the season, goalless for the second straight weekend.

As Brendan Rodgers put it in the most understated tone possible, “The game will be summed up by the great goalkeeping performance of young Alex McCarthy.” As other fans articulated it in their retweets:

source:

Aston Villa 1-1 Fulham

Hey, remember last week when Villa seemed to turn a corner at Stoke? They got points and goals, and it looked like everything was coming together. Tom Hanks was ready to make an 11-part HBO mini-series: Villans.

(Personally, I wouldn’t mind a “That Thing You Do” reboot. Or just a sequel. Guy Patterson trying to revitalize his career in music after realizing the family business is making him into his father? Faye recoiling as Guy’s new ambition reminds him of Jimmy’s overbearing ways? Tom – I’m writing the script on spec.)

Aston Villa may very well be turning the corner, but here’s the thing: When you’re only three points from the drop, draws at home are a great way to let other teams gain control of their own destiny, especially when the two you are trying to hold off (Sunderland and Wigan) now have matches in hand.

Fulham is a good team, but they’re also in that Premier League netherworld of having nothing to play for. They were on the road, and Villa seemed to be building momentum.

But that’s in the past. Time to regroup.

Southampton 1-1 West Ham United

Saints’ three-match winning streak was snapped, but hopefully they’re not above seeing this as progress. It wasn’t not so long ago that they were in the drop, playing at a level that would leave few surprised if they didn’t get a point at home from West Ham. Now both teams are on 38 points. Sitting 11th and 12th, the clubs have practically guaranteed themselves a second season in the Premier League.

Gaston Ramirez opened today’s scoring near the hour mark before Andy Carroll, with this third goal in two games, pulled West Ham even. Now up to five goals on the season, there’s still time for the Liverpool loanee to salvage a decent return on an injury-plagued campaign.

How much would it cost for West Ham to keep him? We all know that’s in the cards, right? He’s a unique player who comes with obvious benefits, but since moving to Liverpool in January 2011, Carroll only scored 11 league goals. Do you still have to pay a premium for his big Anglo-ness?

How much of their £30 million investment will Liverpool seek to recoup?

Barcelona president warns PSG over FFP

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Barcelona president Josep Maria Bartomeu is warning Paris Saint-Germain that even if they try to sign Neymar, they would condemn themselves to UEFA sanctions.

With PSG heavily linked to the Brazilian superstar, rumors suggest the French club is hoping to activate Neymar’s monstrous release clause set at $258 million.

However, that could have serious consequences, warns Bartomeu. “These clauses are impossible to activate if you want to comply with Financial Fair Play,” the Barcelona president told the Associated Press. “If someone doesn’t want to comply, then of course it can be activated.”

The Spaniard assured fans that Neymar is a critical part of Barcelona’s success.

“He has a contract for the coming four years and, of course, we count on him,” Bartomeu said. “He’s part of our team. He’s part of this trident [with Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez].”

The 25-year-old signed a five-year contract extension last October that runs through the summer of 2021. Club vice-president Jordi Mestre also said he was “200 per cent” sure Neymar would stay with Barcelona.

Bruce Arena must change tactics to win Gold Cup

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If last night’s 2-0 “win” over El Salvador proved anything to USMNT fans, it’s that Bruce Arena has plenty of work to do if the United States is to seriously challenge for the 2017 Gold Cup title.

Lowly El Salvador has beaten one CONCACAF opponent in its last 10 tries. That victory came over Curaçao. Nevertheless, the United States struggled to deal with the Central American nation, as El Salvador sported multiple stretches of good pressure, and the U.S. back line was unbelievably lucky to come out with a clean sheet they did not deserve.

Given the performance, Bruce Arena has only one option going forward. With the B Team he’s put together on the current 23-man roster, the USMNT manager cannot stick to his usual 4-4-2 formation. He must adapt.

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With a significantly worse defensive line than the U.S. is used to, Michael Bradley is unable to play by himself in a central defensive midfield role as he did against El Salvador. With just Bradley and Darlington Nagbe in the middle of the pitch, the United States sported a gaping hole down the center, begging their quarterfinal opponent to counter up the gut, which they did to great effect.

Arena knew the U.S. strength was down the flanks, and that’s where he chose to attack. You can see by the halftime touch map that the United States chose to move the ball up the edge, particularly the left with Justin Morrow and Gyasi Zardes.

Arena knew his midfield was thin, and attacked accordingly. Nevertheless, defensively it failed to hold up. Without the more superior John Brooks, Geoff Cameron, and DeAndre Yedlin behind them, a midfield pair of Bradley and Nagbe just isn’t enough to cut down the counter-attack.

So what is Bruce Arena to do? Change his tactics; it’s the only option. Instead of his favored 4-4-2, he must change to a 4-2-3-1. While that cuts down on room for more attacking players, it allows Bradley to partner with Kellyn Acosta in the midfield hole. In front of the pair can either be Clint Dempsey or Darlington Nagbe in the ACM role depending how Arena plans to attack. That leaves Jozy Altidore alone up front, and while that’s less than ideal for a striker who plays better with a partner, it’s the necessary sacrifice that must be made so the U.S. midfield isn’t carved up like a Thanksgiving turkey by the better attacking teams left in the Gold Cup.

Bruce Arena’s preferred tactics may work with better players on the first-choice USMNT roster, but with a significantly downgraded selection at his disposal, especially along the defensive line, the United States coach must adjust his tactics against Costa Rica and likely Mexico to even have a chance.

Villar appears before judge after arrest in corruption probe

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MADRID (AP) The president of the Spanish Football Federation, his son, and two other officials will appear before a judge on Thursday, two days after being arrested in an anti-corruption probe.

Federation president Angel Maria Villar, his son Gorka Villar, Juan Padron, the federation vice president of economic affairs who is also president of the Tenerife federation, and Ramon Hernandez, the Tenerife secretary, were arrested by Spain’s Guardia Civil on Tuesday.

National Court Judge Santiago Pedraz will question the four, who are accused of improper management, misappropriation of funds, corruption, and falsifying documents as part of an inquiry into the finances of the federations.

Judge Pedraz will also decide on Thursday whether the suspects remain in custody, a spokesman for the National Court told The Associated Press. The spokesman asked to remain anonymous in line with court policy.

Angel Maria Villar has been president of the Spanish federation for three decades. He is also the senior vice president of FIFA and a vice president of UEFA.

Police said on Tuesday they suspect the elder Villar of having arranged matches for Spain that led to business deals benefiting his son, a sports lawyer who has worked for CONMEBOL under three presidents who were all implicated in corruption cases.

Angel Maria Villar has spent the last two nights in a Guardia Civil jail on the outskirts of Madrid, not far from the Spanish federation offices which were raided by police on Tuesday along with private properties and regional federation offices.

AP writer Joseph Wilson in Barcelona contributed to this story.

Transfer Rumor Roundup: Aurier to Man United; Wilshere to West Ham

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The Independent is reporting that Manchester United is set to make a move for Serge Aurier with a deal for Monaco’s Fabinho taking too long to finalize.

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Aurier, 24, is a powerful defender who can play at right back or center back and he has excelled for Paris Saint-Germain in recent seasons despite issues off the field as he was fond guilty of assaulting a police officer in Paris and was also suspended by PSG for allegedly mocking teammate Angel di Maria and then manager Laurent Blanc in a periscope session.

The Ivory Coast international is said to be available for $31 million, with PSG and Real Madrid in the running for Fabinho as his price is now said to have rocketed to past $51.9 million.

Jose Mourinho has been speaking about the spiraling costs for “good players” and not “big players” as said he may now have to settle for three new signings than the four he targeted at the start of the summer. With Romelu Lukaku and Victor Lindelof coming in for over $135 million combined, United were said to have been agonizingly close with a deal for winger Ivan Perisic and a move for Chelsea’s Nemanja Matic is also said to still be a possibility.

Quick, strong and an all-out defender, Aurier is a solid Mourinho player. Antonio Valencia had a fine 2016-17 season but he will soon be 32 years old, so United have to look for other options at right back with both Matteo Darmian and Timothy Fosu-Mensah not doing enough to usurp Valencia last season.

All in all, this seems like a sensible solution rather than breaking the back for Fabinho who can play at both right back and as a holding midfielder.


The Daily Star claim that Arsenal have told West Ham United they’ll have to pay $28 million for Jack Wilshere and insert a buy-back clause in any deal.

Wilshere, 25, spent last season on loan at Bournemouth and although he impressed in spells he ended the season with yet another injury after suffering a left leg fracture against Tottenham Hotspur in April.

The academy product has 12 months left on his current contract and his future at Arsenal remains uncertain with Serie A side Sampdoria also said to be interested in his services, but is now the time for Wilshere to move on permanently?

Once the greatest hope of the English national team, Wilshere’s career has been ravaged by injuries and although Arsene Wenger rates him highly (hence the buy-back clause report) the Gunners have Granit Xhaka, Aaron Ramsey, Francis Coquelin, Santi Cazorla and Mohamed Elneny in central midfield.

With Arsenal having a Europa League campaign this season perhaps Wilshere will get plenty more games with the Gunners under his belt to try and impress, but surely he wants to be playing week in, week out in the Premier League.

His England teammate Joe Hart just signed for West Ham and with the Hammers’ rivalry with Arsenal not as intense as other London neighbors Spurs and Chelsea, this deal may work. If not permanently then on a season-long loan, but Wenger was very specific about Wilshere joining Bournemouth for the style of soccer Eddie Howe‘s men play. Under Slaven Bilic West Ham aren’t a free-flowing side but at this point Wilshere’s options in the PL seem limited.

The next 12 months are critical in shaping the rest of his career. We’ve said that many times before, but it feels like now or never for the talented central midfielder.