Quick Six: City rebukes United, Sunderland sacks Di Canio, and the other storylines from the Premier League weekend

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1. COULDN’T HAVE BEEN WORSE FOR MOYES, MANCHESTER UNITED

It’s not just that they were blown out. Or allowed four goals. Or did both of those things against a club that is among their biggest rivals. It’s that all those goals came in 50 minutes, and at the points where his side needed to be strongest — right before halftime, in the opening minutes of the second — David Moyes’s team capitulated. If he didn’t have 15 years of successful coaching experience, we’d swear Moyes was out of his depth today. And maybe he was.

The impact of Sunday’s 4-1 loss at Manchester City will build on Deadline Day, when a disastrous close to the summer transfer window cracked faith in the Moyes-Ed Woodward tandem. Poor performances against Chelsea and Liverpool had already shaken the foundation, but with the club embarrassed on Sept. 3, fans started seeing implications that transcended the field. This was not the United they’ve known.

Now the embarrassment creeps onto the pitch, though having suffered through a 6-1 loss in this derby two years ago, United fans know how to deal with that. What they don’t know how to deal with is the doubts. What experience does a Red Devil fan have with the uncertainties of an unproven, under-performing boss?

Part of the today’s story should really be able Manchester City: about Kun Agüero’s greatness; about Yaya Touré’s persistent influence; about Vincent Kompany’s influence. But we’re in uncharted waters with United, meaning their troubles are going to dominate headlines.

Until Moyes can prove he’s the right man for the job, that’s where the story will stay: In the headlines.

[MORE: Manchester City’s star attackers steal the show in rampant Derby win]

[MORE: Vincent Kompany vs. Wayne Rooney: Both players excel in heavyweight clash]

[MORE: Manuel Pellegrini hails Manchester City, after resounding victory against old foes United]

2. PAOLO DI CANIO WINS PREMIER LEAGUE SACK RACE

Sunderland looked to be in bad shape while Di Canio was putting his squad together, but we all gave him an evil genius benefit of the doubt. After the first game of the year, where Sunderland lost at home despite giving up only one shot on goal, we gave home some more time. And the draw at Southampton? That was okay, too. But multi-goal losses at Crystal Palace and at home to Arsenal produced a momentum that made Saturday’s 3-0 loss at West Brom untenable. Di Canio is not the guy you want bossing a fledgling operation.

This was the time to make a move. It’s been a disappointing start, but they’re only three points from 17th place. There’s still time to salvage the season, especially if your plan hinges on giving a new boss three months to evaluate talent ahead of a winter overhaul. But you can’t let Di Canio stick around and berate the team into the ground and expect a winter turnaround.

So that’s what’s next for the Black Cats: A new boss. What’s next for Di Canio? Having started his managerial career at Swindon Town, he’s shown he’s not afraid of more humble surroundings. Somebody, somewhere in the Football League will give him another chance. And having managed only 12 games at the top level (2-7-3 record), it’s unlikely Di Canio’s been made to believe he can’t be a good Premier League boss.

3. ARSENAL, TOTTENHAM TAKE DIFFERENT ROUTES TO THE TOP

North London occupies the top of the table after five rounds, Arsenal’s superior goal difference giving them first place ahead of Spurs, but both teams are off to identical 4-1-0 starts. That, however, is where the similarities end.

With 11 goals in five games, Arsenal’s ridden the league’s second-best attack to the top, their 3-1, Sunday win over visiting Stoke showing an added dimension to their game. A team that normally lacks a set piece threat has become dangerous thanks to Mesut Özil, whose dead ball service led to goals from Aaron Ramsey, Per Mertesacker, and Bacary Sagna. Geoff Cameron’s first Premier League goal prevented a clean sheet, but Arsenal still won comfortably.

Those three goals are more than half of Spurs’ haul through five games, yet André Villas-Boas’s team still posted their fourth win in five with a 1-0 result Sunday at Cardiff. It took a full 90 minutes to break through, but a game dominated by Spurs to the tune of 64 percent possession, 29-6 edge on shots, 12-0 advantage in shots on goal was decided by a piece of at-the-death brilliance finished by Paulinho.

It was only Spurs’ fifth goal of the year, something we’ve talked about before. They’re not converting control into chances, giving them huge room for improvement. That’s both scary (they can be so much better) and a cause for concern.

4. FOUR CENTRAL DEFENDER GAMBIT SEES LIVERPOOL FALL TO SAINTS

Brendan Rodgers was left longing for Luis Suárez’s return after Liverpool was shutout at home by Southampton, but had the Reds started their normal back line, perhaps Suárez’s absence wouldn’t have been as noticeable. Instead of picking José Enrique and Andre Wisdom at fullback, Liverpool’s manager went with central defenders in those roles: Mamadou Sakho on the left; Kolo Touré on the right. As Southampton retreated into their own end to play on the counter, Liverpool missed the option of throwing more attacking players forward, providing width that could have loosened Southampton’s defense.

The refereeing didn’t help. As Liverpool pressed early, seeking to break through Saints’ compact set up, Neil Swarbrick swallowed his whistle was Southampton’s physicality frustrated Daniel Sturridge. The referee’s 15 fouls tied with Mark Clattenburg at Cardiff City-Southampton for the fewest whistles among this weekend’s matches.

Regardless, this is a game that Liverpool would have expected to win, and in failing to do so, they’ve given back the advantage they earned by getting full points against Manchester United. Perhaps Luis Suárez would have made the difference, but on Saturday, he shouldn’t have needed to.

5. MOURINHO CONFESSING HE DOESN’T KNOW HOW TO COACH HIS SQUAD

By now you’ve read the excuse. Chelsea, who were 1-3-2 in their last six before Saturday’s visit from Fulham, don’t have a squad that plays Mourinho’s style, the returning coach has noted. He’s essentially having to break them in, taking the early part of this season identifying who does (and in the case of the omitted Juan Mata, does not) fit into his approach. The implication:  Chelsea are going to be slow out of the gate.

They were slow out of the gate again on Sunday, controlling play but failing to breakthrough during the first 45 minutes of their West London Derby. An early second half goal from Oscar eased the tension before a late tally from John Obi Mikel produced a comfortable 2-0 win. Still, this was an unconvincing performance against a bad team, one that could have gone another way if a Basel-esque squad were visiting Stamford Bridge.

The outcome played into Mourniho’s thesis, but we shouldn’t be so quick to believe the coach’s complaints. If we accept the common premise that great coaches adapt to their talent, then why isn’t Mounrinho better adapting to his? That isn’t to say that a new boss shouldn’t impose his style on a team, but he should be able to see when his style won’t improve a squad. He should have at least one alternative approach.

Perhaps Mourinho sees that but, like last year at Real Madrid, is looking long-term. Perhaps he’s willing to sacrifice September, October, and November with the hopes his team will be more responsive in March, April, and May.

But if that’s the case, the excuse isn’t the players’ limitations. It’s the manager’s inflexibility.

6. EVERTON: UNDEFEATED BUT STILL UNPROVEN

Perhaps the Toffees would found a way to beat Chelsea even if the Blues defense didn’t break down last week. And maybe they beat West Ham on Saturday if Mark Noble doesn’t get sent off. They haven’t lost this season, so maybe we should be giving Roberto Martínez’s team the benefit of the doubt. They are, after all, the only team in the league without a loss.

But to revert back to comparison from point two, Everton’s start is more like Tottenham’s than Arsenal’s. Whereas the Gunner have gone out and made people believe they have reached a certain level, Spurs have survived their shortcomings and remain a bit unproven. We’ll know more about them one they hit their next obstacle.

Everton, recording their second win in a row on Saturday, did what every good team needs to do: Take advantage of the opportunity they were presented. And they did the same thing when Chelsea came to Goodison. Whether they can start generating opportunities of their own and start winning games on more than their opponent’s mistakes has yet to be seen.

Wenger: Sanchez, Giroud will both be with Arsenal next year

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Arsene Wenger thinks Alexis Sanchez will sign a new deal at Arsenal this summer, whether the manager changes or not.

Speaking ahead of Wednesday’s visit from Leicester City, Wenger did not offer any clues as to his future with the club. He also said it does not hinge on how the Gunners finish the current campaign, and that he is working on transfers for the benefit of Arsenal regardless of his future.

[ MORE: Will Real open door for Barca? ]

That’s no surprise, given his reputation and fidelity to the club. What may surprise some is Wenger’s confidence that Sanchez will stay at the Emirates Stadium.

From Sky Sports:

“I personally think he will stay and sign. First of all he is happy here, his desire is to stay, that is what I deeply believe.

“I don’t think you would sell him to any Premier League club, that is for sure. The question is why would you sell him to another club? You want to be as strong as you can be and not strengthen the other teams.”

Wenger said both sides want to work out a deal and that the hold-up resides in agent-related matters. He also said Arsenal does not have interest in selling Olivier Giroud, who backed Wenger just over a month ago.

Title fight in Spain: Will Real slip up again?

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Barcelona’s dramatic 3-2 win over Real Madrid has set La Liga’s title race on its ear, with both clubs level on points with 75.

Real still controls its own destiny in a bid for its first league title since 2011-12, but a single loss puts Barcelona in pole position for its fourth title in five seasons.

[ RECAP: Chelsea 4-2 Saints ]

The tiebreaker is head-to-head, which Lionel Messi lifted from Real with his thrilling stoppage time thriller on Sunday at the Bernabeu.

Here are the run-ins for both sides, with Real facing a more congested schedule thanks to its status as a UEFA Champions League semifinalist.

Real Madrid

Only two of Real’s remaining five La Liga matches are at home, a boon for Barcelona considering Real boasts a strong home mark. The loss to Barca was Real’s first at the Bernabeu this season, and the Merengues only drew three matches at home (Villarreal, Eibar, Atletico Madrid).

Those home matches, however, are against teams that beat Real in the sides’ other league meetings this year, Sevilla and Valencia.

Wednesday – at Deportivo de la Coruna (16th)
Saturday – vs. Valencia (12th)
May 2 – vs. Atletico Madrid (UCL)
May 6 – at Granada (19th)
May 10 – at Atletico Madrid (UCL)
May 14 – vs. Sevilla (4th)
May 21 – at Malaga (14th)

Barcelona

Barca is home for three of its remaining five matches. The Blaugranas drew Villarreal and blew out Osasuna and Eibar ahead of the return visits.

As for the road matches, Barca has the Derbi barceloni with Espanyol, having taken the Camp Nou meeting 4-1, as well as a trip to Las Palmas (5-0 at home).

Wednesday – vs. Osasuna (20th)
Saturday – at Espanyol (9th)
May 6 – vs. Villarreal (5th)
May 14 – at Las Palmas (13th)
May 21 – vs. Eibar (8th)
May 27 – vs. Alaves (Copa del Rey Final)

The verdict

Any whiplash Real faces from schedule congestion should be offset by Barcelona’s much tougher schedule. Real could lose again, perhaps versus Sevilla, but Barca will likely finish second thanks to dropped points against Espanyol, Eibar, or Villarreal.

Premier League Weds. preview: Desperation on display

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Two London powers face a race to stay alive for their lofty season goals, while two Northeast sides see their last chances to claim hope for another year in the Premier League.

[ STREAM: All PL games here ]

That’s what’s on the docket for Wednesday’s PL matches, one day after Chelsea buried Southampton 4-2 t0 move seven points clear of Spurs in the race for the league’s 2016-17 crown.

Crystal Palace vs. Tottenham Hotspur — 3 p.m. ET on NBCSN

No team has looked better than Spurs lately, though Palace won’t be bowed by a big name or good form. Sam Allardyce‘s Eagles boast wins at Liverpool and Chelsea, as well as a home defeat of Arsenal. Those have all come in 2017, as Palace has leapt to within striking distance of the top half.

Spurs need to win at Selhurst Park to keep pace with Chelsea and sit four points back of the No. 1 spot with five matches to play. Lose, concede, and feel like last April all over again. It was a year from Tuesday that Spurs coughed up a home lead to Leicester and saw any hopes of catching Leicester fade into the sunset.

Middlesbrough vs. Sunderland — 2:45 p.m. ET

This Tees-Wear Derby oozes desperation, with Sunderland knowing it needs to win its matches-in-hand on Hull City and Swansea to have any hope of staying up, and Middlesbrough nearly as desperate.

Boro’s 24 points is three more than Sunderland, who has played one less game. Hull sits 17th with 33 points while Swansea holds 31.

Middlesbrough hasn’t won in the Premier League since Dec. 17, a run of 16 matches. Their only wins of the year are over lower league opposition, a trio of victories against Sheffield Wednesday, Accrington Stanley, and Oxford United.

Sunderland has just one league win since that same date in December, and that came at Crystal Palace. The Black Cats have lost six of eight, and look destined to join Boro in the second tier as Northeast neighbors Newcastle comes up.

(Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images )

Arsenal vs. Leicester City — 2:45 p.m. ET

Did Sunday’s FA Cup semifinal win over Manchester City snap Arsenal out of its funk, or was it just a matter of Alexis Sanchez’s class squeezing a bit of excellence out of the tube?

Arsene Wenger will hope for the latter, because Arsenal’s Top Four hopes hinge on winning its matches-in-hand on Liverpool and getting significant help from Man City and Manchester United. Their opposition will also be rested, having rested since bowing out of the UEFA Champions League on April 18.

Leicester’s five match winning streak, part of Craig Shakespeare’s new manager bounce, has died down a bit. The Foxes lost at Everton and drew at Palace, and get a third tricky road test in a row at the Emirates Stadium.

Pochettino calls out Xavi for Dele Alli-Man City “lie to lie to lie”

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“He tried to destroy our focus to win because he hates me because he’s Barcelona.”

Even half-kidding, the Derby Barceloni is alive and well for longtime Espanyol man Mauricio Pochettino and Barcelona legend Xavi.

At least that’s why the latter is trying to sabotage the former’s Premier League title fight, Pochettino says.

[ RECAP: Chelsea 4-2 Saints ]

Speaking from his club team in Qatar, Xavi claimed that Manchester City is going to bid high for Spurs’ young star Dele Alli.

Tottenham boss Pochettino says that’s just not true. Pochettino was joking a bit when he answered questions on the topic, but then told a story about Xavi diving for a penalty in the derby. Here are a few of his thoughts, from The Telegraph:

“It wasn’t a penalty but Zlatan Ibrahimovic scored for Barcelona and they won the game. After in the replay it was very funny because it was clear no one touched him. Come on! It goes from lie to lie to lie.”

“He is working for Manchester City, maybe? He wants to help Guardiola and [Vincent] Kompany.”