Chelsea's interim manager Benitez looks on before their English Premier League soccer match against Southampton at St. Mary's Stadium in Southampton

Full circle: Misantrope’s revival could land Benítez in Paris, Madrid, or Naples

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I’ve never met the man, but over the course of the last six months, Rafa Benítez and I have had a ridiculously rocky relationship. When, seven months ago, he reentered my life, I was still judging him on the past, bitter at the Jim Jones act he’d pulled on all my Liverpool-loving friends. Then he gave me new reason to disdain his present, a throbbing mass of misanthropy pulsating in Roberto Di Matteo’s shoes. Yet as we sit here, on the cusp of world soccer’s silly seat, I’m forced to admit: I can see why another club would give the man a chance.

I wouldn’t have said the same in November. Not that I like going over old ground, but the obvious needs to be reiterated. He was the one that steered Liverpool out of the old Top Four. Inter took a chance on him in the wake of Mourinho, and Benítez was a disaster. By the time Benítez arrived at Stamford Bridge, he was three-and-a-half years removed from his last successful season.

Maybe some of that mojo was at play early on. Chelsea dipped. When he took over, they were within four points of first, but that didn’t last for long. Impressive performances (at home against Aston Villa) were coupled with beguiling failures (at Southampton). Top four became a battle.

That, however, was the Chelsea of winter. Come spring, the Blues looked like a solid squad. Fans might debate whether they were playing to their potential, but the team had at least stabilized. Ultimately, qualifying for Champions League wasn’t a problem, and the club added Europa League.

Now linked linked with a number of job across Europe, Benítez gets to reap the fruits of that revival. If Carlo Ancelotti leaves Paris Saint-Germain, Benítez will be in frame. He’ll be a candidate at Málaga, a job he seems unlikely to take, and whenever there’s an opening at the Bernabeu, Benítez will be linked with Real Madrid. Even in Naples, where Napoli is saying goodbye to Walter Mazzarri, Benítez’s name is being bandied about.

There’s a good discussion to be had as to how much Benítez actually helped Chelsea. You can also debate whether, at this point in his career, Benítez is a good fit for clubs with as many aspirations as Real Madrid, Paris Saint Germain, or Chelsea. I’m skeptical of both, but the fact that there’s a debate at all speaks to how far Benítez has come in the last three months.

After his first days at Chelsea, Benítez looked like he was writing another disappointing chapter to compelling, confounding career. Now the saga seems ready for a whole new act. Our misanthrope’s not going away any time soon.

Arsene Wenger confirms deals for Mustafi and Perez are complete

GETAFE, SPAIN - APRIL 24:  Shkodran Mustafi of Valencia applauds fans after Valencia drew 2-2 with Getafe CF during the La Liga match between Getafe CF and Valencia CF at Coliseum Alfonso Perez on April 24, 2016 in Getafe, Spain.  (Photo by Denis Doyle/Getty Images)
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Arsenal has completed a pair of big-money deals with the transfer windows closing down,.

Manager Arsene Wenger confirmed that the club has finished the transfers of Shkodran Mustafi and Lucas Perez, two players they have long been linked with. He also confirmed the club was unlikely to sign any other players, unless new opportunities cropped up before the window shuts on Wednesday.

“We have bought two players, Mustafi and Perez. We had to work very hard to get signings done,” Wenger said. “We have no plans for anyone else now.”

Mustafi fills the most pressing need, helping patch up a back line ravaged by injuries. He is set to sign a five-year deal, according to the BBC and other reports. The fee is a reported $46 million.

Perez, a 27-year-old Spaniard, also fills a heavy need up front. With just Olivier Giroud and Chuba Akpom as the only healthy strikers available to the Gunners, Perez will help fill a gap. Perez was purchased for a reported $22 million, triggering the player’s release clause.

It’s unclear how soon the players will be available to play for Arsenal. The club next takes on Southampton after the international break.

Dortmund, Wolfsburg, Gladbach all win in Bundesliga openers

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - APRIL 14:  Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang of Borussia Dortmund is challenged by Alberto Moreno of Liverpool during the UEFA Europa League quarter final, second leg match between Liverpool and Borussia Dortmund at Anfield on April 14, 2016 in Liverpool, United Kingdom.  (Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images)
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The Bundesliga officially opened Friday with Bayern Munich’s 6-0 demolition of Werder Bremen, but the rest of the league got under way Saturday, and it was business as usual.

Borussia Dortmund cruised with a 2-1 win over FC Mainz at Westfalenstadion behind a brace from main man Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang. The first came early in the 17th minute, a headed goal at the far post on the end of a beautiful ball from Andre Schurrle. The second on a penalty in the 89th minute after Schurrle was fouled by Karim Onisiwo. Aubameyang started last season with 13 goals in the team’s first 10 games, and he’s begun this year’s campaign on the same foot.

Wolfsburg worked its way to a 2-0 win on the road at Augsburg with a pair of impressive goals. Daniel Didavi bagged an incredible strike from a seated position in the 35th minute. After being knocked to the ground near the penalty area, the ball fell in the lap of the 26-year-old, and he spun around, looping the ball into the top corner.

The second was a late free-kick from Ricardo Rodriguez to double the lead.

Borussia Monchengladbach won a thriller at Borussia-Park 2-1 thanks to an 85th minute winner from Lars Stindl. The 28-year-old stayed just onside and beat Tin Jedvaj to the ball, slotting it in five minutes from time for all three points. Goals from Andre Hahn and substitute Joel Pohjanpalo had cancelled each other out. Fabian Johnson entered the game in the 61st minute.

Elsewhere, Timmy Chandler and Eintracht Frankfurt held serve at home with a 1-0 win over Schalke. Alex Maier scored the only goal in the 13th minute, and while he had a later penalty saved, The Eagles held their opponents scoreless the rest of the way. Chandler came on as a 56th minute substitute and helped keep the clean sheet.

Ingolstadt pulled out a 1-1 draw on the road at Hamburg thanks to a 76th minute equalizer from Lukas Hinterseer. Marcel Reese and Anthony Modeste gave Cologne a 2-0 home win over Darmstadt.

Premier League Saturday Roundup: Chelsea, Arsenal cruise, United snatches three points

Hull City v Manchester United - Premier League
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New managers have quickly brought the attention back to the Premier League’s traditional powerhouses, but one newcomer continues to impress in its return to top-flight football.

Hull City couldn’t pull out a draw against unbeaten PL favorites Manchester United, but the Tigers still looked impressive at times. Meanwhile, Chelsea, Leicester and Arsenal all won on the day, with the Blues keeping their winning ways up as well.

 

Hull City 0-0 Manchester United – RECAP

The points were surely going to be split between two of the better sides during the opening month of the season, but Marcus Rashford stole all three out from under Hull City. Despite a clever defensive effort from the Tigers, United remained unbeaten through three games after the second-half substitute smashed home Wayne Rooney‘s cross in the 92nd minute of play.

Chelsea 3-0 Burnley – RECAP

It was easily Chelsea’s best performance of the young season, and Eden Hazard looks to be back to his old ways after kicking off the day with a goal. The Clarets were held throughout the match at Stamford Bridge, limited to zero shots on target.

Tottenham 1-1 Liverpool — RECAP

Philippe Coutinho continues to present challenges for opposing defenses but luckily for Spurs the Brazilian was off with his finishing on the day. A James Milner penalty kick gave Liverpool the lead at White Hart Lane before Danny Rose leveled things up for the home side. Spurs remain unbeaten in their start to the new campaign but like many other PL sides, Mauricio Pochettino‘s men are still fine-tuning in the early portion of the season.

Watford 1-3 Arsenal – RECAP

A brutal schedule to open the season forced the Gunners to wait three weeks to find their opening win, but Saturday’s performance was a reminder of just how dangerous Arsene Wenger‘s group can be when firing on all cylinders. Alexis Sanchez looked like a menace from the opening kickoff, working his way into dangerous areas on the field and troubling the Watford backline.

Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images

 

Leicester 2-1 Swansea City RECAP

The Foxes don’t look dominating like they were a season ago, but the most important thing about Saturday’s performance was that they won. Jamie Vardy got back on track with a much needed finish off of a routine long ball, before captain Wes Morgan powered home a close-range strike.

Crystal Palace 1-1 Bournemouth – RECAP

It looked as though Josh King‘s first-half finish would be enough for Bournemouth to earn its first win of the season, but Scott Dann‘s late effort ensured that Palace would take a share of the points at home. Neither side looked dominant after the opener from the visitors, but it was a valiant effort from Alan Pardew‘s side to pick up a draw.

Southampton 1-1 SunderlandRECAP

Chances were limited until the latter stages of the match but some clever play from Jermain Defoe to earn a penalty kick handed the Black Cats the lead with 10 minutes to play before the home side equalized in the dying minutes. Jay Rodriguez was the savior for Southampton, after scoring with five minutes to play for the Saints.

Everton 1-0 Stoke City – RECAP

The Toffees have quietly gone about their business this season but Ronald Koeman‘s side have taken seven out of nine points in their first three matches. Leighton Baines‘ penalty kick secured the team’s second win of the new PL season on Saturday, and Everton will be certainly pleased with the start.

Hull City 0-1 Manchester United: Rashford strikes late on the road

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  • Rashford plays hero after entering as substitute
  • Jakupovic makes seven saves in losing effort
  • Hull held to two shots on target
  • United remains unbeaten in first 3 matches

Hull City did just about everything right to earn a draw on Saturday, but Marcus Rashford decided to flip the script in the dying minutes.

Manchester United came away with a 1-0 victory at the KC Stadium after the second-half subsitute smashed home Wayne Rooney‘s cross in the 92nd minute.

Robert Snodgrass nearly handed Hull the lead after 25 minutes when the midfielder’s free kick narrowly missed wide of David De Gea‘s net. The Spanish goalkeeper was easily beaten by the shot, but United dodged a bullet as he watched the attempt go off target.

Chances were aplenty for United throughout the match, including the first half, which saw the Red Devils’ claims for a handball inside the penalty area denied.

The Red Devils found another chance to break the deadlock on the stroke of halftime but Zlatan Ibrahimovic couldn’t find the back of the net. The Swedish striker appeared to be offsides on Wayne Rooney’s free kick but Hull survived the sequence unscathed.

It always seemed like United would find a breakthrough, despite Hull’s best defensive efforts, and Rashford’s late finish ensured the Red Devils would remain unbeaten to start the 2016/17 season.