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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.

LIVE – Europa League group stage finale: Saints, Man United in crucial deciders

SOUTHAMPTON, ENGLAND - NOVEMBER 03:  Virgil van Dijk of Southampton celebrates after scoring his team's first goal during the UEFA Europa League Group K match between Southampton FC and FC Internazionale Milano at St Mary's Stadium on November 3, 2016 in Southampton, England.  (Photo by Ian Walton/Getty Images)
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This is it, don’t get scared now.

[ LIVE: Europa League scores ]

Premier League duo Southampton and Manchester United both go into their final group game of the UEFA Europa League needing to avoid defeat if their going to make the knockout rounds.

For United, their task is simple. Jose Mourinho’s men need just a point from their trip to Ukraine to play Zorya Luhansk to advance to the Round of 32, while a win could see them finish top depending on the result of the Feyenoord vs. Fenerbache game.

As for Southampton, it’s a little bit more complicated.

A win for Claude Puel‘s side at home against Hapoel Be’er Sheva at a sold out St Mary’s would see them safely through to the knockout rounds of the Europa League for the first time in club history. A 0-0 draw would also do the trick but a score draw (1-1, 2-2, 3-3 etc) would send the reigning Israeli champions through instead as they’d have the advantage in head-to-head away goals after the duo drew 0-0 in Israel back in October. Making the knockout rounds of this competition would be a huge deal for Southampton and would keep their cup momentum going after they reached the semifinals of the EFL Cup last week.

[ MORE: Europa League standings ]   

Elsewhere there is plenty on the line across the 12 groups, with the standings page in the link above very handy to work out the permutations as the top two teams from each group (first place team is seeded, the second unseeded) advance to the Round of 32 and will be joined by the eight teams who finished third in their respective groups in the UEFA Champions League group stage.

Below is the full schedule for Thursday’s game which kick off in three separate time slots, while you can follow live commentary and stats on the games by clicking on the link above.


Full Europa League schedule, Thursday Dec. 8

11 a.m. ET
Konyarspor vs. Gent
Qarabag vs. Fiorentina
Osmanlispor vs. Zurich
Braga vs. Shakhtar Donetsk
Villarreal vs. Steaua Bucuresti
PAOK vs. Liberece

1 p.m. ET
Vikrotia Plzen vs. Austria Wien
Apoel Nicosia vs. Olympiacos
Sassuolo vs. Genk
Anderlecht vs. Saint-Etienne
Zorya Luhansk vs. Manchester United
Rapid Wien vs. Athletic Bilbao
Young Boys vs. Astana
AZ Alkmaar vs. Zenit Saint Petersburg
Feyenoord vs. Fenerbahce
Maccabi Tel-Aviv vs. Dundalk
Mainz vs. Gabala
Astra Giurgiu vs. Roma

3:05 p.m. ET
Panathinaikos vs. Celta Vigo
Standard Liege vs. Ajax
Inter Milan vs. Sparta Prague
Southampton vs. Hapoel Be’er Sheva
RB Salzburg vs. Schalke
Nice vs. Krasnodar

Bob Bradley will remain in charge, says Swansea chairman

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With reports circulating in the British press that American coach Bob Bradley could be fired after just seven games in charge of Swansea City, their chairman has publicly backed the former U.S. national team head coach.

[ MORE: Ranking the PL superstars ]

Bradley, 58, has just one win in his opening seven games in charge of the Swans who currently sit bottom of the Premier League table on nine points, three points off safety.

That poor form, coupled with many other issues at the club, has reportedly prompted new American owners Steve Kaplan and Jason Levien (they took over as majority owners in July) to conduct an extensive review of every department at the club.

However, chairman Huw Jenkins has moved to quell rumors about Bradley becoming the second Swansea manager to be fired through the opening 14 games of the season.

“I don’t know where that story came from, but it’s natural in football that everyone wants and needs results. But the last thing we need at this moment of time is a continual change in manager. We need stability first and foremost,” Jenkins told talkSPORT. “Take a team like Fulham, they changed managers three times in the season they tried to stave off relegation and we’re in a similar position now.”

“Perhaps in the summer I could have made a better decision – from pre-season onwards I don’t think things were right, it was too flat at the club. That had a knock-on effect and obviously it’s taken us a while to work through it. But we’re with Bob now to try and turn that corner – that’s what we’re working towards. We look at the January window as a chance to reinforce things. There are players not hitting the form levels they have done in the past and we have to find out why that is and get that right as well.”

So, it seems that sense is prevailing after all.

Jenkins took the blame for Swansea’s poor start to the season in media interviews on Wednesday and now the long-time chairman is backing his manager.

The south Wales businessman was part of a consortium which saved Swansea in 2004 and then led them on an incredible journey up from the fourth-tier to the Premier League, plus winning the League Cup and getting to the group stages of the Europa League. He and other directors have come in for some serious stick from Swansea’s fans for selling their stake to the new American owners and Jenkins is believed to have made just over $10 million from selling 8.2 percent of his 13.2 percent stake in the club.

On the pitch, it’s difficult to blame Bradley for the current situation Swansea finds itself in.

After some woeful moves in the transfer window last summer (Jenkins has admitted they weren’t great with Ashley Williams and Andre Ayew allowed to leave for big profits but their replacements just haven’t been good enough) the American coach needs at least one transfer window to bring in better players and the Swans are only three points off safety with a pivotal stretch of six games to come in the Premier League.

Home games against Sunderland, West Ham and Bournemouth, plus trips to West Brom, Middlesbrough and Crystal Palace will see the Swans go up against direct relegation rivals between now and Jan. 3.

The next four weeks will be huge not only for Swansea’s future but also for Bradley and ahead of their crunch home game against Sunderland on Saturday (Watch live, 10 a.m. ET online via NBCSports.com) the American coach is eager to cut out defensive mistakes as the Swans have now conceded 19 goals in his seven games in charge.

“When you are a manager it (the pressure) goes with the territory,” Bradley said. “It is work as usual, knowing from the beginning when I got here that it would be a big challenge, and it is. When you see a scoreline like that it is easy to jump on us. We are not going to survive if we keep on conceding goals like this.”

Man United’s Europa League clash in doubt over frozen pitch

Manchester United's coach Jose Mourinho, centre, attends a training session with his team at Chernomorets stadium in Odessa, Ukraine, Wednesday, Dec. 7, 2016, ahead of Thursday's Europa League group A soccer match against FC Zorya Luhansk. (AP Photo/Efrem Lukatsky)
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Manchester United and Jose Mourinho may not play their UEFA Europa League game against Zorya Luhansk on Thursday.

[ MORE: Ozil, Sanchez leaving Arsenal? ]

Amid freezing conditions in the Ukrainian city of Odessa (Zorya cannot play their games at home due to the ongoing conflict in eastern Ukraine) the pitch underwent an inspection on Thursday and with covers and heaters on the playing surface overnight, there is hope the game should go ahead.

However, Jose Mourinho has already talked about the state of the pitch as not being ideal, while the likes of Daley Blind and Paul Pogba looked far from impressed when they went out for a training session on Wednesday in freezing conditions.

Remember, United only needs a point from the game against Zorya to qualify for the Europa League Round of 32 and Mourinho has selected a strong 19-man squad for the trip. 

A statement from Zorya said the following on Thursday morning, as they remain hopeful of the game going ahead.

“Everything depends on the weather. The pitch is not brilliant at the moment. We are expecting temperatures of two or three degrees and everything should be okay.”

Below was the scene in Odessa yesterday for United’s training session, via Simon Peach of the Press Association.


Yep, the pitch doesn’t look great.

Barcelona invites Chapecoense to play friendly

CHAPECO, BRAZIL - OCTOBER 22: Supporters of Chapecoense cheer their team during the match between Chapecoense and Sao Paulo for the Brazilian Series A 2014 at Arena Conda on October 22, 2014 in Chapeco, Brazil. (Photo by Alan Pedro/Getty Images)
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BARCELONA, Spain (AP) Barcelona says it has extended an invitation to host a friendly match against the Brazilian soccer club involved in last week’s plane crash.

Chapecoense was on its way to the final of the Copa Sudamericana, one of South America’s most prestigious club tournaments, when its flight went down in Colombia, killing all but six of the 77 players, officials and journalists on board.

The match would be played in August. The friendly, called the Joan Gamper trophy, is used as Barcelona’s traditional curtain raiser for the new season.

Barcelona says it sent a formal invitation to Chapecoense on Thursday.

Barcelona says it wants to “pay homage to the 71 people who died in the accident as well as their families.”