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Quick Six: Top Premier League storylines from weekend no. 2

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1. THERE’S ONLY SO MUCH AARON RAMSEY CAN DISGUISE WITH ARSENAL

I haven’t met the person who, after this week, isn’t slightly happy for Aaron Ramsey. I’m not sure I want to. A standout four days for the 22-year-old comes after a five years of promise, injury, doubt, and criticism. For one week, however, the Wales international has lived up to the hype that accompanied him from Cardiff City in 2008.

Back then, an 17-year-old Ramsey was the subject of a bidding war, most notably between Arsenal and Manchester United. He eventually chose North London, embarking on a career that was momentarily sidetracked two years later, his leg broken by a Ryan Shawcross tackle. Returning to the Gunners 14 months later, Ramsey won a role in Arsène Wenger’s squad only to become one of many faces not quite good enough to meet supporters’ ambitions. That he was bought so young, had trouble nailing doubt a specific role, and saw more time in the wake of Cesc Fábregas’s departure made him a de facto symbol of Arsenal’s plight.

But if Ramsey truly is a symbol, then things are looking up for the Gunners, because for two straight matches, he’s been great – arguably the club’s best player. On Wednesday in Istanbul, Ramsey helped create one and scored another as Arsenal downed Fenerbahçe, 4-0. Saturday at Craven Cottage, he was similarly controlling, leaving the injured Mikel Arteta far from the minds of the Arsenal faithful as the Gunners ran out 3-1 winners.

That’s not to say all is well with Arsenal. The problems brought up in the wake of their loss to Villa are still there. If Arsène Wenger chooses to bask in the glow of Ramsey’s glory, he’ll overlook the fact the club still need a central defender, midfielder, better goalkeeping, and potentially help in attack if they’re truly going to compete on all fronts.

But at a time when the club’s fans needed something, anything to show hope need not be lost, a long-held prospect has emerged. And after all he’s been through, why not Aaron Ramsey? Somebody we can all get behind.

source: Reuters2. FOR SPURS, LIVERPOOL, STAR POWER’S OVERRATED

Perhaps Tottenham do need a Gareth Bale-like presence, but the idea that they’re a one-man team is being debunked. Whereas last year Spurs seemed incapable of winning unless their star got on the scoresheet, now they don’t even need him in the team. After their 1-0 win over Swansea City, André Villas-Boas’s side is perfect through two rounds.

But Spurs aren’t the only team thriving without their leading man. With Luis Súarez suspended, Liverpool have also opened with two wins, their second coming Saturday at Aston Villa. Daniel Sturridge (right) has picked up the scoring slack, scoring in each of Liverpool’s 1-0 wins, but perhaps more importantly, Simon Mignolet has proven a prescient signing in goal.

Of course Liverpool and Spurs would be better if they had last year’s stars. And eventually, Liverpool will have theirs. But for all the talk of these clubs being one-man teams last year, it hasn’t taken long for Villas-Boas and Brendan Rodgers to remind us: There are other ways to win soccer games.

3. MANUEL PELLEGRINI MAY NOT BE ALEX FERGUSON

Given how effusive we were on Monday after City’s trouncing of Newcastle, it behooves us to take a step back from our Manuel Pellegrini praise. And given how long I’ve doted on the former Villarreal, Real Madrid, Málaga boss, I may be due for two, maybe three steps away from the champagne. No, Richard, Pellegrini is not going to redefine English football.

source: Getty ImagesSunday seemed a classic “you don’t know what you’re getting into game,” one a new coach could overlook. On talent, there isn’t much room for Cardiff City to compete with the Sky Blues, but the style of game in the English leagues (or, more readily, the culture) somehow creates an environment where results like this are more likely. Where pace, power, and passion are such integral parts of the sporting ethos, you’re not going to be able to knock the ball around for an hour, take a 1-0 lead, and consider your opponents convinced.

And there’s no reason to think Manchester City assumed as much, yet the match played out that way. Eight minutes after Edin Dzeko opened the scoring, Cardiff had their first of three second half goals, going on to a 3-2 win.

Perhaps there’s nothing Pellegrini could have done to prevent that, but his substitutions didn’t help. Nor did his willingness to roll the dice with Javi Garcia at the back. Ultimately, in his second game in England, Pellegrini lost with a vastly more-talented side.

source: Getty Images4. PROMOTED SIDES BREAK THROUGH

Give Cardiff City credit. They played well; better than most thought them capable of. Perhaps Manchester City could have done more, but Cardiff did well to stick around. And once City cracked — once the visitors ground their gears while trying to find cruise — the Bluebirds pounced. Even if City played better, Cardiff may have found a way to win their first Premier League match at home.

Hull City, on the other hand, had to hang on after losing a man before the half hour mark, though by the time Yannick Sagbo saw himself dismissed, Robbie Brady had already converted from the spot. What followed was less of a siege than a persistent probing, Norwich unable to exert enough pressure to crack the Tigers. They held the ball of 61 percent of the time, brought on the newly acquired Johan Elmander, but couldn’t many more than four shots on goal, a paltry amount considering the 73 minutes with a man advantage.

The only thing that prevented a clean sweep for the promoted club was a comeback at the Britannia, with Stoke City handing Crystal Palace their second straight loss. Regardless, both Cardiff City and Hull City are not only into the win column, they’re outside of the drop zone. For now.

source: Getty Images5. FOUR GAMES, TWO POINTS IN THE NORTH EAST

It should go without saying Newcastle’s first two games have not been good enough. Their first, a thrashing at the boots of Manchester City, can’t be explained by the Yohan Cabaye controversy. Their second, a 0-0 draw against visiting West Ham United, saw the home side fail to register a shot on goal. Alan Pardew’s contract may run through 2020 (no joke), but the same questions of his performance that hovered at the end of last season are about resurface.

Sunderland, in the meantime, also earned a point on Saturday despite the fact they failed to carryover any of the control they showed against Fulham. The nearly didn’t need it, though, with a third minute goal from Emanuele Giaccherini holding up for 85 minutes. If it wasn’t for a goal two minutes from time from Jose Forte, the Black Cats would have completed their smash and grab.

Despite the draws, both teams clearly have a long way to go. While Sunderland has shown some promise, they’ve played two drastically different games, leaving questions as to what they truly have at the Stadium of Light. Newcastle, on the other hand, have played two games they’ll want back.

6. TOO EARLY TO PASS JUDGMENT ON ASTON VILLA, SWANSEA CITY

source: Getty ImagesVilla’s first week has seen them face three European aspirants, with Paul Lambert’s team losing the one game they may have expected to win nine. That they got a surprise result at Arsenal last Saturday means the Liverpool loss stings a little less, though with three points from matches with the Gunners, Chelsea, and the Reds, Villa can be happy with their returns. Had they taken one point from those three games, fans could have rationalized the results.

It does put Lambert in a strange position. He’s trying to evaluate what he has with his team, but he doesn’t have a good point of comparison. Against Arsenal, Chelsea, and Liverpool, Villa were always going to be outgunned. That they did, much of the time, look outgunned not only wasn’t a surprise but also led to 270 minutes where it’s hard to gauge his team’s absolute quality. Lambert will have to rely on his experience to fill in the gaps.

Michael Laudrup’s in the same situation. Swansea’s faced Manchester United and Tottenham, two teams they weren’t expected to beat. That they didn’t take points won’t be seen as a disappointment; however, Swansea’s also left with a skewed perception of self, one that won’t help them determine how they stack up against the other Europa League-aspirants.

Patrick Vieira discusses Mix Diskerud and NYCFC’s offseason plans

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While the general feel of Tuesday’s MLS MVP ceremony in New York City was upbeat for New York City FC, the club has a challenging road ahead this offseason as they look to retool ahead of 2017.

[ MORE: David Villa wins 2016 Landon Donovan MLS MVP honors ]

Captain and star striker David Villa accepted honors on Tuesday as the Landon Donovan MLS MVP after notching 23 goals and four assists for the Eastern Conference, but outside of the Spaniard the team will have several noticeable holes that need plugging prior to next season.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s MLS coverage ]

NYCFC manager Patrick Vieira proved to be a strong hire in his first season with the club, but his potential success moving forward will be dictated by how he and technical director Claudio Reyna fill out the rest of the roster.

Key pieces such as Frank Lampard and Andoni Iraola have since left the club after providing stability in the midfield this past season, while Jason Hernandez, Claudio Bravo and Steven Mendoza were among the other roster casualties following the team’s first playoff appearance in 2016.

While Vieira admits losing players like Lampard certainly presents a challenge, the Frenchman believes that NYCFC can just as easily recruit more talented members in the buildup to next season.

“Of course we lost Frank [Lampard],” Vieira said. “We lose some other players as well. We have to bring some new players. Something that is very important to us is that we have to be better and we have to bring players that can match out targets and we have different options on the table.

“You would not believe how many players would love to play for New York City FC. We will have some difficult decisions to make and it’s important for us to bring the right people, like David, because it’s important to bring people who want to come, people who want to work hard, prepare to sacrifice themselves for the football club because we have to do well next year.

As it stands, NYCFC currently has 18 players under contract ahead of the 2017 season, including two Designated Players (Villa and Andrea Pirlo).

One name that certainly jumps out on the list of 18 though is U.S. Men’s National Team midfielder Mix Diskerud, who has seen more downs than ups in his two seasons in the Bronx. After making 27 appearances for NYCFC in the team’s inaugural season, Diskerud’s playing time was dwindled down significantly in 2016 under Vieira to just nine starts in 12 overall appearances.

The 26-year-old was the fourth-highest paid player on NYCFC in 2016 — making $761,250 — however, he scored just one goal and added two assists. The club is still looking to figure out the best way to handle the Diskerud situation though, according to Vieira.

“He’s looking for playing time,” Vieira said. “We’re having discussions with him and trying to find the best way to satisfy both Mix and ourselves.”

LIVE – UCL group stage finale: Man City, Arsenal both in action

LONDON, ENGLAND - NOVEMBER 23:  Olivier Giroud of Arsenal (L) celebrates his sides second goal with his Arsenal team mates after Marco Verratti of PSG (not pictured) scored a own goal during the UEFA Champions League Group A match between Arsenal FC and Paris Saint-Germain at the Emirates Stadium on November 23, 2016 in London, England.  (Photo by Julian Finney/Getty Images)
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With their passage into the Round of 16 secured, Premier League duo Arsenal and Manchester City is both in action on Tuesday.

[ LIVE: Champions League scores

The Gunners know a win at Basel combined with PSG dropping points at home to Ludogorets would mean clinching top spot in Group A and an all-important top seed for the last 16 draw. As for Man City, they have secured top spot in Group C and can’t finish above Barcelona so Pep Guardiola will likely start plenty of fringe players against a Celtic side already out of Europe as they will finish in fourth place.

Elsewhere there is plenty to play for as the winner of Napoli vs. Benfica will make it to the UCL’s last 16 and Besiktas know a win in Kiev will also sent them through. There is also the small matter of a battle between two heavyweights in Atletico Madrid and Bayern Munich, although Atleti already have first place sewn up and Munich has to settle for second irrespective of the result.

Below is a full schedule for Wednesday’s Champions League games, with each game kicking off at 2:45 p.m. ET. You can follow live commentary and stats of each game by clicking on the link above, while we will have reaction right here on ProSoccerTalk.


Tuesday’s UEFA Champions League schedule

Group A
Paris Saint-Germain vs. Ludogorets
Basel vs. Arsenal

Group B
Napoli vs. Benfica
Dynamo Kiev vs. Besiktas

Group C
Barcelona vs. Borussia Monchengladbach
Manchester City vs. Celtic

Group D
Bayern Munich vs. Atletico Madrid
PSV Eindhoven vs. FC Rostov

Brazil anti-trust body says bids rigged for 2014 World Cup

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RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) Brazil’s anti-trust body says several construction companies rigged bids for 2014 World Cup stadiums, driving up costs by overcharging for the work.

[ MORE: Ranking the PL superstars ]

Five stadium projects were mentioned in the report by the anti-trust body CADE. They included Rio de Janeiro’s famous Maracana Stadium, where Germany defeated Argentina 1-0 in the 2014 World Cup final.

CADE says three other stadiums used in the World Cup also could have been tainted by corruption.

[ MORE: Pogba told to stop showboating ]

CADE says it obtained the bid-rigging information in a leniency agreement with construction company Andrade Gutierrez.

Reports have been widespread about corruption linked to World Cup stadiums, and construction projects tied to this year’s Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.

Champions League permutations: Who can reach last 16?

LONDON, ENGLAND - NOVEMBER 23: Marquinhos of PSG (R) is chased by Mesut Ozil of Arsenal (L) during the UEFA Champions League Group A match between Arsenal FC and Paris Saint-Germain at the Emirates Stadium on November 23, 2016 in London, England.  (Photo by Julian Finney/Getty Images)
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The final matchday of the UEFA Champions League group stage is here and there are plenty of permutations to wrap our heads around for the matches on Tuesday and Wednesday.

[ MORE: Full UCL schedule ]

Remember, the top two teams from each four team group go through to the last 16 with the team who finishes top the seeded team, while the team who finishes second the unseeded team. As well as that, the team who finishes third automatically qualifies for the UEFA Europa League Round of 32.

Below is a look at how things stand in each group with one game to go and what each team has left to play for.


Group A
Arsenal and Paris Saint-Germain have already qualified but if PSG win against Ludogorets and Arsenal beat Basel both teams will finish on 14 points. However, PSG will top the group due to their two away goals against Arsenal in the first head-to-head tiebreaker. Basel and Ludorogets are both in the hunt for the Europa League spot as they each have two points. If both teams finish on the same number of points then Ludogorets will go through as they similarly lead Basel in away goals in games between the duo.

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Group B
Everything is set up for an epic showdown between Napoli and Benfica in Italy as the winner of that game knows they will definitely go through and seal to spot. However, the loser may advance if Besiktas lose to bottom side Dynamo Kiev. The equation is quite simple for Besiktas: if they beat Kiev in Ukraine, they’re in the last 16. Kiev is on two points and can’t finish any higher than fourth. If Napoli and Benfica draw and Besiktas win, then Besiktas and Napoli would qualify as they beat Benfica 4-2 away from home. Benfica will still qualify if they lose and Besiktas draw, as they have a better head-to-head record. If Besiktas draw and Napoli lose, the Turkish side will be through.

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Group C
Everything is sorted in Group C with Barcelona sealing top spot, Man City finishing second and Bourssia Monchengladbach finishing third. Celtic is guaranteed to finish bottom and is out of Europe.

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Group D
Atletico Madrid have sealed top spot in Group D, while Bayern Munich have second spot guaranteed as both heavyweights are through to the last 16. The only thing left to play for is third place and if PSV Eindhoven beat Rostov at home in the final game then they will finish in third ahead of the Russian side.

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Group E
Monaco have sealed top spot, while Bayer Leverkusen is guaranteed second spot with both going through to the knockout stages. Tottenham Hotspur crashed out of the Champions League and need just a point in their home game against CSKA Moscow to qualify for the Europa League. A defeat for Spurs against CSKA would mean the Russia side go to the Europa League instead.

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Group F
Borussia Dortmund and Real Madrid are safely through to the last 16 and a win or a draw for Dortmund at Real Madrid on the final matchday will seal top spot. If Dortmund lose to Madrid then the reigning European champs will finish top of Group F. The battle for third place is on as Legia Warsaw host Sporting Lisbon in Poland. Sporting only need a point to advance to the Europa League Round of 32, while Legia must win.

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Group G
Leicester has sealed top spot in the group and has qualified as a top seed for the last 16. Porto host Leicester in the final game and a win would guarantee them a spot in the last 16. A draw may be enough for Porto of Copenhagen lose or draw at Club Brugge, but if Copenhagen win then Porto must also win to finish second and make the knockout rounds. If Copenhagen win and Porto draw then Copenhagen will go through as they have an equal head-to-head record with Porto but better goal difference.

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Group H
Juventus is safely through to the round of 16 but they’ve yet to seal top spot. A win for the Italian champions at Dinamo Zagreb will guarantee first place. As for the battle for second, Sevilla know a point at Lyon will see them through but Lyon know a win would see them leapfrog Sevilla and make the last 16. If Sevilla beat Lyon and Juventus draw or lose against Zagreb then Sevilla will finish in top spot.

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