Manchester United v Chelsea - Premier League

NBC analysts break down opening day

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We’re just seven matches into the 2013-2014 Premier League season, and it’s already been a bit of a wild ride. 18 goals were tallied over the course of Saturday’s matches, yet West Brom, Stoke, Cardiff City and Sunderland all failed to get on the scoresheet. Just one match, Norwich vs. Everton, ended in a draw, and that one’s four goals still keep things exciting. NBC could hardly have asked for a better day to launch their coverage of the Premier League.

The matches featured on NBC and NBCSN were some of the better ones as well, each featuring their own behind the seasons storyline. The day started off with Liverpool beating Stoke 1-0, a scoreline that belies just how out of their depth the visiting Potters looked. It seems Mark Hughes may have been too ambitious in thinking he could change Stoke’s traditional long-ball style, and if it hadn’t been for a string of spectacular saves by Asmir Begovic, Liverpool could have easily had five or six goals. And that was without Luis Suárez, who may not even have made the bench, but caused a stir by showing up in a Reds’ shirt with a smile on his face.

The next match brought the most surprising result thus far this season, with Aston Villa beating Arsenal 3-1 at the Emirates. The Villa, who flirted with relegation for much of last season, were down a goal by the tenth minute, and looked unlikely to stage a comeback. But then Gabriel Agbonlahor drew a penalty to put his side even before the half, and then drew another in the second half. The Arsenal fans were outraged when Anthony Taylor sent off Laurent Koscielny in the 67th minute, but turned their anger on Arsene Wenger, and his lack of signings, after new Villa signing Antonio Luna put in a third with five minutes left to play. Rebecca Lowe, host of pre- and post-match show Premier League Live, summed up the match perfectly: “It [The Premier League] certainly is back and what a start for [manager] Paul Lambert and Aston Villa’s season.”

The final match of the day saw Manchester United beat Swansea 4-1, with the scoreline flattering United’s play just a bit.  Arlo White, NBC’s voice of the Premier League, did well to set the scene before the match:

Hello, welcome to the Liberty Stadium. We’re in the city of Swansea in South Wales, 187 miles to the west of London, and Manchester United, the champions, begin the defense of their Premier League title. This is where they begin a whole new era under David Moyes. Sir Alex Ferguson, of course, ended his 26 and a half year reign with retirement in May, and we are underway. The rain pouring from slate grey skies, Wayne Rooney on the bench for Manchester United.

In just those few sentences, it was clear this match would about more than whether Robin Van Persie could better his goal tally of last season. Robbie Earle drew attention to this on the Premier League Live segment prior to Swansea vs. Manchester United:

They lose today at Swansea, the media will start, Jose Mourinho will start, and the whole of the football world will be saying, it’s not quite the same. And that’s the pressure that’s on David Moyes and his team to get off to a good start. It’s a huge day because the eyes of the football world are on David Moyes and how he starts his reign as Manchester United manager.

Fortunately for Moyes, his side won, with a convincing scoreline at that. Yet the focus remains on Wayne Rooney, who came in for Ryan Giggs with around 30 minutes left to play. Rooney played a crucial role in van Persie’s second goal, timing his run to draw away Swansea players and allow the Dutchman space to run into, and provided the assist on Danny Welbeck’s second, the fourth and final goal of the match. Yet questions about his future are still ever present. In the final Premier League Live segment of the day, Robbie Mustoe had this to say about forward: “It’s all business for Wayne Rooney. When he’s out there, he’s going to play the game, but we all know he doesn’t want to be at this football club.”

With less than two weeks remaining in the transfer window, there’s not much time for Rooney to make a move. The saga will still be a talking point whenever Moyes speaks to the media, but at least the new United manager has three points and the spot at the top of the table to point to.

Report: Chelsea’s Diego Costa, Antonio Conte agree truce

MIDDLESBROUGH, ENGLAND - NOVEMBER 20:  Antonio Conte, Manager of Chelsea celebrates victory with Diego Costa after the Premier League match between Middlesbrough and Chelsea at Riverside Stadium on November 20, 2016 in Middlesbrough, England.  (Photo by Ian MacNicol/Getty Images)
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The feud is over. For now.

[ MORE: New rules stop Costa move

After Diego Costa was left out of Chelsea’s traveling squad for the win at Leicester City last weekend, he has been training on his own amid reports of a back injury which his manager Antonio Conte

It seems very likely that this situation was about much more than a back injury as Costa and Conte reportedly had a bust-up on the training ground, while links surrounding a big-money move to China continue as Costa’s agent, Jorge Mendes, was seen visiting owners of Chinese Super League clubs last week.

A report in The Times states that Costa and Conte have decided to put their differences aside and the Spanish international is back in contention to start against Hull City on Sunday (Watch live, 11:30 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com).

It was also stated that although everyone is buddy-buddy for now, Costa could still leave in the summer as his volatile nature is far from impressing Conte who continues to stamp his authority not only on the players but the entire club.

It’s clear Conte is boss but he can’t have Costa undermining him as seems to have been the case over the past week and it was also the case earlier on in the season when Conte demanded Costa remained on the pitch.

That said, Costa’s importance to Chelsea can’t be understated as he is the join-top goalscorer in the Premier League with 14 goals and he’s added another five assists this season. With reports linking Chelsea with a summer move for Alvaro Morata, it appears Conte is already trying to plan for life without Costa.

Can the Blues win the PL title this season without Costa’s goal and presence up top? Despite a seven-point lead, probably not. That’s why Conte calling a truce in his instance makes sense.

That said, he now has six months or so to line up a long-term replacement for Costa.

The cracks have been papered over for now. But how long will it be until two fiery characters collide once again?

Lionel Messi discusses his Barcelona future

BARCELONA, SPAIN - JANUARY 11:  Lionel Messi of FC Barcelona looks on during the Copa del Rey round of 16 second leg match between FC Barcelona and Athletic Club at Camp Nou on January 11, 2017 in Barcelona, Spain.  (Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images)
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Lionel Messi has addressed speculation linking him with a move away from the only club he has ever known.

[ MORE: Who are title favorites? ]

Messi, 29, has been at Barcelona since the age of 13 and the Argentine superstar has won every possible trophy with the Catalan giants, plus has been crowned the World Player of the Year on five occasions.

Time for a new challenge?

Reports had suggested that Barcelona have wanted to start talks over a new contract with Messi for quite some time but with just 18 months left on his current deal, Messi and his representatives are yet to hold talks.

“I have always said that Barcelona has given me everything and I am here for as long as they want me to be,” Messi said in Coach magazine.

Hmm.

Messi also spoke about his former manager and mentor, Pep Guardiola, and his challenging start to life in the Premier League as manager of Manchester City.

“It is a very competitive league, last season showed that, so it makes it very difficult to predict,” Messi added. “Of course Pep is a very successful coach, he will be adjusting to the league, but I am sure that he will be successful.”

Will Messi be part of Pep’s success at City?

It is obvious Barca will want him to stay but if a huge offer comes in for Messi from Man City this summer, or others in the Premier League, then surely he will think twice about it.

If Pep can coax Messi to join him at City, who can clearly afford him, then it would be another glittering star in their attacking line. That said, if Guardiola is going to be successful then he’ll have to add plenty more quality in defense as City currently sit 10 points off leaders Chelsea with 17 games to go in the PL season.

Loss to Sevilla quickly puts Real Madrid’s Zidane on the defensive

SEVILLE, SPAIN - JANUARY 15:  Head Coach of Real Madrid CF Zinedine Zidane looks on prior to  the match against Real Madrid CF during the La Liga match between Sevilla FC and Real Madrid CF at Estadio Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan on January 15, 2017 in Seville, Spain.  (Photo by Aitor Alcalde/Getty Images)
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MADRID (AP) Real Madrid’s first loss after a 40-game unbeaten streak was enough to put coach Zinedine Zidane on the defensive.

Two days after Madrid’s unbeaten record was halted by a 2-1 defeat at Sevilla in the Spanish league, Zidane was forced to defend some of his players against criticism from fans and local media.

[ MORE: Klopp, Liverpool still consulting lawyers over absurd Matip situation ]

Most comments were aimed at goalkeeper Keylor Navas, who failed to stop Sevilla’s injury-time winner on Sunday. Navas got to Stevan Jovetic‘s long-range shot but was unable to keep the ball from going in.

“He’s having a really good season,” Zidane said on Tuesday. “You can always ask for more, but if up until now we had gone 40 games without losing, it’s for a reason, and he has been there all the way.”

There have been calls for Zidane to give reserve goalkeeper Kiko Casilla a chance, but the coach said there was “no need to go over this again.”

Zidane also dismissed talk about signing a new goalkeeper.

“These are rumors,” he said. “We are focused on what we are doing this year. Whatever happens next I’m not interested and it’s not the time to talk about it. The three goalkeepers we have are important, they’re doing well and I’m very happy with them. I don’t want to change anything we’re doing.”

[ MORE: How Sevilla hope to break up the Madrid-Barca duopoly ]

Zidane defended forward Karim Benzema, who lost possession near midfield in a mistake that led to host Sevilla’s winner on Sunday.

“Everyone can say and write what they want,” Zidane said. “On a field, playing 90 minutes, you can’t do everything right. There is talk of lack of concentration, but we only had five bad minutes and that happens in football.”

Benzema also missed a chance to score from close range in the game, but a few days earlier it was the French striker who netted in stoppage time in a Copa del Rey match against Sevilla to help Madrid set the Spanish unbeaten record.

Zidane downplayed the end of Madrid’s unbeaten streak. The club hadn’t lost since a 2-0 defeat at Wolfsburg in the Champions League in April.

[ MORE: Monday’s transfer rumor roundup | Sunday | Friday | Thursday ]

“These things happen,” he said. “Nothing is going to change in what I’m going to do. Those who are not Real Madrid fans will want us to lose, but we must be ready and think that what we’re doing is fine. We lost a game, something that happens, and now we have to make sure that it doesn’t happen again.”

Madrid hosts Celta Vigo on Wednesday in a first-leg match in the quarterfinals of the Copa del Rey.

Celta has won all four matches this year.

“I am not surprised by Celta’s record because they’re a very good team, they fight and play very good football,” Zidane said. “It’ll be another complicated match for us.”

FA fines Man City’s Sagna over “10 against 12” Instagram message

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - JANUARY 02: Scott Arfield of Burnley (L) tackles Bacary Sagna of Manchester City (R) during the Premier League match between Manchester City and Burnley at Etihad Stadium on January 2, 2017 in Manchester, England.  (Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)
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LONDON (AP) The English Football Association has fined Manchester City defender Bacary Sagna 40,000 pounds (around $50,000) for an Instagram post about a referee.

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Sagna posted a photo with the caption “10 against 12.. but still fighting and winning as a team” on the social network site following City’s 2-1 win against Burnley on Jan. 2.

Sagna later amended the post to read “still fighting and winning as a team” after a match that saw referee Lee Mason send off midfielder Fernandinho.

[ MORE: Klopp, Liverpool still consulting lawyers over absurd Matip situation ]

The FA also warned Sagna about his future conduct.