Everton run into buzzsaw at Sunderland, could lose Moyes and Fellaini

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No matter how much was on the line for Everton coming into the weekend, a date with Sunderland was always going to be a buzzsaw fixture.

The Toffees entered the match with long-shot hopes of qualifying for the Champions League, four points back of 4th place Chelsea, who held a game in hand. David Moyes’ notoriously thin side had been nursed back to health for the first time since the beginning of the season and after a robust mid-week performance in the 1-1 draw at Arsenal, it felt like few teams could stand in their way.

One of those teams, however, was Sunderland.

In 16th place and just three points clear of relegation-bound Wigan, the Wearsiders were battling for their Premier League lives. The Black Cats entered the match full of belief after last weekend’s stunning 3-0 victory over Newcastle. The derby win secured  manager Paulo Di Canio’s cult-status at the club and made concern over his political affiliations a mere footnote.

The fiery Italian put out a side that was organized, energetic and full of belief. Factor in the match being venued under the reverberating rafters of the Stadium of Light, and Sunderland were a team not to be crossed. To their credit, Everton played decently well but it didn’t matter – the Black Cats’ determination could not be matched and they fully deserved the three points.

The win came courtesy of a Stephane Sessegnon gem just before halftime. After Leighton Baines gave the ball away at midfield, Sessegnon took four dribbles and fired a hovering shot from 18 yards out to beat Tim Howard to his far post. The Benin international’s seventh goal of the campaign was all Sunderland needed to secure the three points, easing their relegation fears and setting off celebrations throughout Wearside.

For Everton, the dropped points could have massive ramifications. For starters, the loss prompted Moyes to admit that his side has almost no chance of Champions League qualification. “We probably didn’t deserve to lose the game but we didn’t play well enough to win it. I don’t think now we can make the Champions League,” the manager said.

But even more significantly, the loss could seal the departure of both Moyes and Marouane Fellaini during the summer transfer window. This winter Moyes refused to re-sign his contract at Goodison Park – set to expire this summer – fueling speculation that the 11 year veteran on Merseyside may leave the club in search of greener pastures. Manchester City, Chelsea and Schalke have been named as possible destinations and though Everton chairman Bill Kenwright could convince Moyes to stay by providing him with the finances he needs to compete, majority opinion says the notoriously frugal owner is unlikely to do so.

Fellaini’s road out of Everton is even more clear cut. Enjoying a dominant season (11 goals, 5 assists in 27 appearances), the 25 year old has been heavily linked to Chelsea and, more recently, Russian outfits Anzhi Makhachkala and Zenit St. Petersburg. The Belgian has made clear his intent to play Champions League football and although his current deal at Everton isn’t set to expire until 2016, a $35m (£23m) escape clause is viewed as a fair market trigger for big clubs to pull.

In the meantime Everton will set its sites on competing with 5th place Tottenham in a spot for the Europa League. To do so the Toffees will need to take maximum points from their four remaining fixtures against Fulham (H), Liverpool (A), West Ham (H) and Chelsea (A).

Mourinho: Mkhitaryan “disappeared” during games, got dropped

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It would appear that Henrikh Mkhitaryan has become the new Luke Shaw, who not so long ago became the new Juan Mata, who had become the new Iker Casillas, Sergio Ramos and Pepe, who all previously become the new Kaka and Mesut Ozil — players previously perceived to be undroppable, only to fall out of favor and be dropped from Mourinho’s side.

[ MORE: Carrick back in training after operation to fix irregular heartbeat ]

Similarly to many of the aforementioned stars of Manchester United, Chelsea and Real Madrid sides of the not-so-distant past, Mourinho recently singled out Mkhitaryan for not working hard enough for the team and failing to meet expectations with his performances.

Mkhitaryan last featured in Man United’s 1-0 loss to Chelsea on Nov. 5, prior to the most recent international break. He played just 62 minutes, to follow an UEFA Champions League appearance of just 45 minutes against Benfica. Mkhitaryan was then absent from the substitute’s bench for a victory over Newcastle United and a defeat to Basel.

[ MORE: Pochettino sees Sanchez as one of world’s best defenders already ]

In Mourinho’s mind, Mkhitaryan hasn’t merited a place in the team — quotes from the Guardian:

“I was not happy with his last performances. I’m not speaking about one or two, I’m speaking about three, four or five. He started the season very well and after that, step by step, he was disappearing. His performance levels in terms of goalscoring and assists, pressing, recovering the ball high up the pitch, bringing the team with him as a no. 10, were decreasing.

“That was enough [to drop him] because the others worked to have a chance. Everybody works to have a chance. It’s as simple as that.”

“I don’t know if Mkhitaryan will start but, for sure, he will be back in the group. For him to be back to the group, it means that somebody is going to leave the group.”

Davinson delights Pochettino, who predicts “massive” strides

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It’s still very early days for Davinson Sanchez as a Tottenham Hotspur player, but the early returns are extremely positive as the Colombian center back has featured in 14 of the club’s 17 games in the Premier League and UEFA Champions League this season.

[ MORE: Spurs beat Dortmund again to win group with Real Madrid ]

What’s more encouraging than Sanchez’s initial performances? The 21-year-old’s “massive” room for improvement and the expectation he’ll one day soon be one of the world’s best defenders, according to manager Mauricio Pochettino.

After signing for Spurs in August, Sanchez went straight into Pochettino’s starting lineup, slotted in between stalwarts Toby Aldeweireld and Jan Vertonghen, who together last season led the defense with the PL’s best record (26 goals conceded in 38 games), as part of a back-three. Sanchez has taken to Tottenham like a duck to water, in Pochettino’s estimation — quotes from ESPN FC:

“You saw against against Dortmund how many times he was with [Pierre-Emerick] Aubameyang one-versus-one. How many central defenders can play one-versus-one and escape and go, be tight and press? If you run, I run because I am so confident when running. I think not many center backs in the world can do this.

“Or against Swansea against Tammy Abraham: how many times he was one vs. one and the ball was behind him, he was on the halfway line and running was not a problem? And against Cristiano Ronaldo, too?”

“We expect more from him, but I am so happy with him. He is doing well, very well. He’s only 21 years old, but he shows more maturity [than that], and he’s so aggressive when he’s marking, his concentration [is good] and then with the ball he’s good, but I think he can improve.

“There is massive scope to improve potentially, it’s massive for him. In only a few months, he’s showing he’s doing a fantastic job for us. [He can improve in] every single aspect, tactic, physical condition, technique.

“We need with him one and a half months or two months preseason every day, and then I’m sure he’s going to show a different level. I think he’s one of the best today, but has potential to improve a lot more.

“Because he’s so clever, and he’s very humble, and he’s very open to learn, he’s a player when you tell something his reaction is to be open, and be critical with himself, and that is a massive skill from a player, when he’s so open to improve, and then the conditions he has are amazing to be one of the best center halves in the world.”

To state the completely obvious, Pochettino was wise to utilize Aldeweireld and Vertonghen as training wheels for Sanchez, if you will, upon his arrival. His athleticism and pace make him 1) the ideal complement to a pair of players who read the game so well; and, 2) perfectly positioned to operate as the last-man, emergency defender on the rare occasion either Belgian is breached.

[ MORE: Liverpool host Chelsea in massive top-four clash ]

For the first time all season, Sanchez started out wide in Alderweireld’s absence (hamstring) against Arsenal last weekend, and for the first time since his arrival, he appeared a flawed — which is to say, human — defender. To his credit, Sanchez gave a quality account of himself on the whole, and finished the game much stronger than he’d started.

No one was more aware of this than Pochettino, though, as he slid Eric Dier into Aldeweireld’s spot for Tuesday’s Champions League triumph over Borusia Dortmund, again deploying Sanchez in the middle. With Aldeweireld expected to miss a couple more weeks at minimum, the Tottenham teamsheet should routinely read Vertonghen-Sanchez-Dier from left to right until he returns.

Lille appoint four interim managers to replace Bielsa

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LILLE, France (AP) A four-man coaching team will take provisional charge of French soccer club Lille in the wake of Marcelo Bielsa’s dismissal.

Lille says Fernando Da Cruz, Joao Sacramento, Benoit Delaval and Franck Mantaux will be in charge of the team until further notice.

Lille announced earlier this week that Bielsa had been suspended “as part of a procedure started by the club” following a 3-0 loss at Amiens.

The northern side is in 19th place and next travels Saturday to Montpellier, which has the best defense in the league.

Bielsa joined Lille this season but failed to make the club competitive. After finishing a disappointing 11th last season, Lille hired the coach – affectionately known as El Loco Bielsa (Crazy Bielsa) – with the aim of returning to the Champions League.

Irregular heartbeat the cause of Carrick’s recent absence

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Manchester United captain Michael Carrick hasn’t played for his club since Sept. 20, a confounding period of more than two months now, and the reason for the 36-year-old midfielder’s absence has finally come to light: an irregular heartbeat.

[ MORE: Mourinho slams critics (again), gives injury updates ]

The condition, which Carrick announced himself on Friday, was first detected after Man United’s League Cup victory over Burton Albion. He has since undergone a cardiac ablation, a procedure to scar or destroy tissue in your heart that’s allowing incorrect electrical signals to cause an abnormal heart rhythm, according to the Mayo Clinic.

Carrick was named the new United captain this summer following the departure of Wayne Rooney. As told in the above statement, he is working toward full fitness and once again being available for selection in Jose Mourinho’s side.

Hooray for modern technology and medicine, which allow otherwise baffling medical conditions to be diagnosed, treated and recovered from in a matter of weeks or months.