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Quick Six: Ramsey’s rise, Di Canio’s plight, and the storylines from the Premier League weekend

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(Highlights of Arsenal’s 3-1 victory Saturday at Sunderland.)

1. ÖZIL DEBUTS, RISE OF RAMSEY CONTINUES FOR ARSENAL …

The international break did little to quell anticipation of Mesut Özil’s debut, with his recovery from a stomach virus unable to prevent the German Real Madrid refugee from taking his bow at the Stadium of Light. Despite some controversy, Arsenal took a 3-1 win from Sunderland, making it nine points from three games since their shock loss to Aston Villa on the league’s opening weekend. Despite all the deficiencies we’ve been harping on since that’s first week stunner, Arsenal are top of the table after four rounds.

But while Özil’s debut made him the headliner, teammates had as much (if not more) to do with the result. Olivier Giroud has been the league’s best striker, on Saturday scoring his fourth early, go-ahead goal of the season. Mathieu Flamini had a stand out day as the team’s deep midfielder, going 10 for 10 on long balls while completing 87 of 98 passes. Jack Wilshere even bounced back from his mid-week trough in Ukraine to calm England’s insecurities.

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Through four matches, Aaron Ramsey (left) has two goals, one assist, and has completed 87.7 percent of his passes. Combined with his Champions League performances against Fenerbahçe, the 22-year-old has been Arsenal’s best player this season. (Photo: Getty Images)

But again, the story was Aaron Ramsey. With two second half goals, the young Welshman continues his quick ascent from criticized prospect to breakout star. While Giroud may be the league’s best striker, Ramsey has been his team’s best player overall, his second half brace finally giving him a scoresheet presence to match his on-field influence.

And Arsenal wasn’t even at full strength, though coming off an international break, few teams are. Santi Cazorla wasn’t in Arsene Wenger’s 18. Mikel Arteta and Lukas Podolski are still injured. Per Mertesacker was absent at the back. When they return, we can really start assessing how far the Gunners have come in the fight to keep fourth from Spurs.

[MORE: Sunderland 1-3 Arsenal – Gunners rise continues (Video).]

[MORE: Arsenal “lucky” in win at Sunderland.]

[MORE: Gunners sweating on Giroud’s knee injury.]

2. BUT WHAT TO THINK ABOUT PAOLO DI CANIO’S ACT?

It was a gambit by a desperate team, one that always had a downside. In bringing in Paolo Di Canio to wake up a squad left comatose by Martin O’Neill, Ellis Short always risked the controversial boss would be unable to keep Sunderland in the Premier League. The downside if they stayed up? You’d be stuck with Paolo Di Canio.

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After Saturday’s game, Paolo Di Canio confessed he suggested referee Martin Atkinson to send him to the stands. After the loss, his team sits 20th in the Premier League with one point through four rounds. (Photo: Reuters.)

The former West Ham star is an authoritarian, a quality that’s more than a lazy assumption based on his fascist beliefs. He overworks his players, lacks tact when criticizing them publicly, and fosters an environment where their professionalism (or, their view of what a professional is) is not trusted. It’s an approach that can work at lower levels with inexperienced players who have relatively little recourse or power. At the top-level, with a squad full of veteran players who’ve played for more proven managers, Di Canio’s will breed frustration and disrespect.

It’s the type of thing that’s solved by winning, something Di Canio did at Swindon Town. And having survived a relegation battle last year, the manager entered this season with some credibility. But after Saturday’s loss, Sunderland are in last place, with one point through four rounds. Intentionally getting himself sent in Saturday’s second half off will only heighten concerns the combustible boss isn’t up to it.

(Highlights of the 0-0 draw between Stoke City and Manchester City Saturday at the Britannia Stadium.)

3. WEEK ONE SO FAR GONE FOR MANCHESTER CITY, ASTON VILLA …

Here’s a shocker: We were too quick to sing Aston Villa’s praises. Just as the dissection of Arsenal after their week one loss looks hasty, foolish, and short-sighted, the lionizing of Villa now seems premature. After a home loss to Newcastle, a defeat which would be disappointing no matter the team’s start, Villa is 1-3-0 and sit 16th. Only one team (Sunderland) have allowed more goals. Against Newcastle, they managed only one shot on target (Magpies: eight).

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Aston Villa’s Brad Guzan allowed two more goals this weekend, bringing his (and the team’s) total to six conceded in four games. Only last place Sunderland (eight) has allowed more goals this season. (Photo: Getty Images.)

Manchester City are another team we overrated after week one, though perhaps with more justification. The Sky Blues have finished first and second over the last two years and made huge improvements this offseason, fomenting a justifiable bias. Most people thought they’d be better, with a 4-0 win over Newcastle on the weekend’s opening Monday only confirming that belief.

Since, the Citizens have strong together three disappointing performances, and while they’ve yet to replicate their loss at Cardiff City, a scuffling win over Hull City and a draw at Stoke City don’t exactly scream ‘ready to contend for a title.’ While City’s struggles haven’t kept them from holding down fourth place (one spot above rival Manchester United), the team doesn’t look ready to start their Champions League campaign.

Like Aston Villa, week one is so far away for City, as are the assumptions about their quality. The larger body of work shows significant tweaks are needed.

(Highlights of Newcastle’s 2-1, Saturday victory over Aston Villa at Villa Park.)

4. WHILE NEWCASTLE HAS DARED TO PUSH ON

Since losing at Eastlands to start the season, Newcastle haven’t lost. They hadn’t exactly wowed, though, playing poorly in a draw with West Ham before a 1-0 win over a bad Fulham, but with this weekend’s win at Villa, Alan Pardew’s team has seven points from three games. Sitting eighth in the league, Pardew’s seen the early storm fueled by the Yohan Cabaye controversy and Joe Kinnear’s empty bag from Deadline Day pass without coming ashore.

And on Saturday, Newcastle has their first legitimately good performance of the season. They outplayed Villa on the road, taking advantage of their hosts’ defensive issues while limiting them to one shot on goal.

We’ll need to see more performances like these to know Newcastle’s ready to push on from last year’s struggles, but their year’s early challenges have already been cast aside. Newcastle is in better shape than we previously thought.

(Highlights of Everton’s 1-0 victory over Chelsea Saturday at Goodison Park.)

5. EVERTON BREAKTHROUGH CAN’T WIN OVER MOURINHO

Everton scored. They broke through in the win column. They recorded the type of victory the Toffees didn’t see enough under David Moyes. Toppling Chelsea, they’ve emboldened faith the Roberto Martínez era will allow them to push on, not merely consolidate.

José Mourinho doesn’t care. Scoreboard be damned, he thought his team was the better side on Saturday, despite finishing on the wrong end of a 1-0 result:

“We dominated the whole game and had 21 shots, we risked everything we could,” the Chelsea manager said after Steven Naismith’s goal secured a 1-0 home victory. “In that sense I think it’s fair to say we deserved to win the game. But in another way, the team had 21 shots and some of them easy shots too, but we didn’t score.

“We made a mistake in the last minute of the first half where we lost the ball in a strange situation and we conceded a goal. Maybe because of that, we deserved to lose, because if you don’t score you can’t win …

“We didn’t deserve to lose because we were the best team and the team that tried harder to win the game.”

Aside from the last sentence, they’re actually relatively benign comments. Perhaps the only thing to add is shots on goal, which Chelsea led six to five. That hardly hints at a huge difference in the teams, particularly given Everton were defending a lead for half the game.

But there’s no reason for concern here. Everton will compete for a spot in Europe, leaving a 1-0 loss on the road in a coin-flip game a perfectly justifiable result. Perhaps on another day, Chelsea converts an early chance and wins this game, but as the tone of Mourinho’s comments notes, there’s no reason to dwell, even if it was the team’s first league loss their manager’s return.

(Highlights of Tottenham’s 2-0 victory over Norwich City Saturday at White Hart Lane.)

6. SPURS: NOW FEATURING OPEN PLAY GOALS

In the abstract, a 2-0 win at home against Norwich City is par for the course from Spurs. This is the type of result a Champions League-aspirant should be posting, and with a two-goal lead by the 50th minute, it was done in the kind of controlling style you’d expect from one of the league’s most-talented squads.

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Christian Erikson (right) made his Premier League debut on Saturday, recording an assist in 71 minutes as Spurs went on to a 2-0 win over visiting Norwich City. (Photo: Getty Images.)

In other words, Spurs are now playing like they should, something you couldn’t say after three rounds of the season left them without an open play goal. That all changed in the 28th minute, with Gylfi Sigurdsson giving Spurs a lead he doubled four minutes after halftime.

Perhaps we could see some literary irony in a hold-over scoring two goals after Spurs’ prodigious summer spending (and selling), but most Tottenham supporters will look at Christan Eriksen’s performance and note the impact the new signings will have. The Danish international, bought from Ajax in the last week of the transfer window, went 71 minutes and posted an assist playing as André Villas-Boas’s number 10.

It’s still going to take time for Spurs to gel, but every sign from Saturday hints things are turning it around. They outshot Norwich 23 to five, put seven on goal to the Caneries’ one, and held 69 percent of the ball. And being able to bring the likes of Sandro, Erik Lamela, and Lewis Holtby off the bench, Tottenham showed they have even more power in reserve.

LIVE: Europa League Round of 32 – Spurs, Ajax, Bilbao in action

Tottenham's Harry Kane, 2nd right, is congratulated by his teammates after scoring his side's 2nd goal during the Champions League group E soccer match between Tottenham Hotspur and CSKA Moscow at Wembley stadium in London, Wednesday, Dec. 7, 2016. (AP Photo/Frank Augstein)
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The Europa League Round of 32 second legs keep coming on Thursday.

[ LIVE: Europa League scores ]

After Manchester United, Schalke and Krasnodar all booked their spots in the last 16 on Wednesday, the 13 remaining clashes take place across Europe on Thursday.

Tottenham Hotspur host Belgian outfit Gent at a sold-out Wembley Stadium as close to 90,000 fans will roar on Mauricio Pochettino‘s men. Harry Kane and Co. will need all the help they can get too as Tottenham trail 1-0 from the first leg in Belgium last week.

Elsewhere, APOEL Nicosia, Borussia Monchengladbach and Shakhtar Donetsk will all look to overturn narrow deficits, while Ajax, Osmanlispor and Genk will be hoping to make home advantage count with their ties locked in a stalemate.

It’s an uphill battle for Villarreal, Sparta Prague and AZ Alkmaar, but strange things happen in this tournament (See: Liverpool’s stunning comeback against Borussia Dortmund).

The draw for the last 16 of the Europa League will take place on Friday and it could get quite tasty as there are no seedings and no protection against being drawn against teams from your own association and from your group stage.

So: Manchester United vs. Tottenham?

Click on the link above for live scores, updates and stats from the three games on Thursday, while we will have updates and analysis on all the action right here at Pro Soccer Talk.

Here’s the Europa League schedule below, with the score from the first leg in parenthesis.


Thursday’s Europa League Round of 32, second legs

Full Thursday schedule

11 a.m. ET
Osmanlispor vs. Olympiacos (0-0)

1 p.m. ET
APOEL Nicosia vs. Athletic Bilbao (Bilbao leads 3-2)
Besiktas vs. Hapoel Be’er Sheva (Besiktas leads 3-1)
Ajax vs. Legia Warsaw (0-0)
Roma vs. Villarreal (Roma leads 4-0)
Zenit Saint Petersburg vs. Anderlecht (Zenit trails 2-0)
Fiorentina vs. Borussia Monchengladbach (Gladbach trails 1-0)

3:05 p.m. ET
Lyon vs. AZ Alkmaar (Lyon leads 4-1)
Shakhtar Donetsk vs. Celta Vigo (Shakhtar trails 1-0)
Sparta Prague vs. Rostov (Rostov leads 4-0)
Genk vs. Astra Giurgiu (2-2)
Copenhagen vs. Ludogorets (Copenhagen leads 2-1)
Tottenham Hotspur vs. Gent (Spurs trail 1-0)

Wayne Rooney issues statement on Man United future

ISTANBUL, TURKEY - NOVEMBER 03:  Wayne Rooney of Manchester United looks on during the UEFA Europa League Group A match between Fenerbahce SK and Manchester United FC at Sukru Saracoglu Stadium on November 3, 2016 in Istanbul, Turkey.  (Photo by Chris McGrath/Getty Images)
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Wayne Rooney has issued a statement saying he will remain at Manchester United.

[ MORE: What is Rooney’s best option? ]

Rooney, 31, has been heavily linked with a move to the Chinese Super League and after his agent flew to China to meet with interested clubs those reports intensified. 

However, the all-time leading scorer for Manchester United and England has issued the following statement on his decision to stay at United.

Over to you, Wayne.

“Despite the interest which has been show from other clubs, for which I’m grateful, I want to end recent speculation and say I am staying at Man United. I hope I’ll play a full part in leading the team in its fight for success on four fronts. It’s an exciting time at the club and I want to remain part of it.”

Rooney is contracted to United until 2019 and although he has become a bit-part player at United this season he still has a big part to play.

With the emergence of Anthony Martial, Marcus Rashford and Henrikh Mkhitaryan, not to mention Juan Mata, Jesse Lingard and Zlatan Ibrahimovic around, Rooney is no longer the first name on the teamsheet in the attacking area.

That’s something he will have to accept under new manager Jose Mourinho and, after a little bit of soul-searching while on the sidelines injured for the past three weeks, it’s obviously something Rooney has begrudgingly come to terms with.

For now.

He will still contribute at key moments for United and get plenty of minutes between now and the end of the season as United are in the last eight of the FA Cup, the last 16 of the Europa League and face Southampton in the EFL Cup final this weekend as well as continuing their top four hunt in the Premier League.

Still, Rooney will want to play regularly and after 13 years at Old Trafford the chance of that happening seems very unlikely as long as Mourinho is in charge. That could impact his chances of being called up by England boss Gareth Southgate which will be especially damaging ahead of the 2018 World Cup in Russia (Rooney has already said that will be his final major tournament) next summer.

It’s likely Rooney will reassess the situation this summer and could still head to the Chinese Super League, or even Major League Soccer. The other option is to go back to boyhood club Everton to see out his playing days, if (and it’s a big if) the Toffees can afford his wages.

Right now, though, it seems like Rooney is set to become the next Paul Scholes or Ryan Giggs as he prolongs his career with the Red Devils. He may not stick around as Giggs and Scholes, but given all he has achieved for United he deserves to leave or remain on his own terms.

Premier League player Power Rankings – Top 20

LONDON, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 04:  Ngolo Kante of Chelsea runs with the ball under pressure from Alexis Sanchez of Arsenal during the Premier League match between Chelsea and Arsenal at Stamford Bridge on February 4, 2017 in London, England.  (Photo by Mike Hewitt/Getty Images)
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The Premier League action is back after the FA Cup and European action took center stage. Hug someone. This is awesome.

[ MORE: Power Rankings archive

With that in mind, there are a handful of new faces in our Power Rankings, with Chelsea and Man City continuing to dominate.

Remember: this is a list of the top 20 performing players right now in the Premier League.

Let us know in the comments section below if you agree with the selections of the top 20 players in the PL right now.


  1. Alexis Sanchez (Arsenal) – Even
  2. Harry Kane (Tottenham) New entry
  3. N’Golo Kante (Chelsea) – Down 1
  4. Zlatan Ibrahimovic (Man United) – New entry
  5. Sadio Mane (Liverpool) – Down 1
  6. Raheem Sterling (Man City) – Even
  7. Paul Pogba (Man United) – New entry
  8. Sergio Aguero (Man City) – New entry
  9. David Luiz (Chelsea) – Down 4
  10. Manolo Gabbiadini (Southampton) – Down 4
  11. Diego Costa (Chelsea) – Up 7
  12. Thibaut Courtois (Chelsea) – Down 5
  13. Henrikh Mkhitaryan (Man United) – Down 4
  14. Christian Eriksen (Tottenham) – New entry
  15. Kevin De Bruyne (Man City) – Down 4
  16. Juan Mata (Man United) – Even
  17. Leroy Sane (Man City) – Down 4
  18. David Silva (Man City) – Down 1
  19. Eden Hazard (Chelsea) – Down 9
  20. Anthony Martial (Man United) – Down 4

Previews of every Premier League game – Week 26

LONDON, ENGLAND - JANUARY 22:  Diego Costa (R) of Chelsea celebrates scoring the opening goal with his team mates during the Premier League match between Chelsea and Hull City at Stamford Bridge on January 22, 2017 in London, England.  (Photo by Richard Heathcote/Getty Images)
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There are eight Premier League games in Week 26 as the EFL Cup final sees Southampton and Manchester United both out of PL action.

[ STREAM: Every PL game live

With the FA Cup break over, we are now looking forward to plenty of big battles across the league as some teams try to scramble for points in their quests to finish in the top four, while others are scrapping away for their lives at the wrong end of the table.

With 13 games to go, it’s all getting rather tense out there…

Below you can find previews, team news and score predictions on every game coming up this weekend.


Tottenham vs. Stoke City

Everton vs. Sunderland

Chelsea vs. Swansea City

West Brom vs. Bournemouth

Leicester City vs. Liverpool

Crystal Palace vs. Middlesbrough

Hull City vs. Burnley

Watford vs. West Ham