Premier League Playback: Jose Mourinho’s angry (naked) chat, US ‘keepers assist kings, S.A.S. return

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MATA AND TORRES DELIGHT MOURINHO, BUT ‘SPECIAL ONE’ FUMES AT VERTONGHEN

“This guy [Vertonghen] is a special guy. Three days ago he left the Aston Villa striker naked, and somehow it was not a penalty and not a red card, because he shouldn’t play this game. Vertonghen should be suspended and have got a red card against Villa. If you go to YouTube it is top of the ridiculous situations in football. It’s ridiculous, the boy was naked and today Vertonghen changed the game. I’m not happy.” – Jose Mourinho on Vertonghen getting Fernando Torres sent off, just days after he didn’t get a red card despite pulling down the shorts of Aston Villa striker Niklas Helenius and impeding a goalscoring chance in the box.

Cue huge roars of laughter from the assembled members of the media as Mourinho somehow kept a straight face when recalling this incident. But in reality, his Chelsea side were denied the chance to win the game at Tottenham as they battered Spurs in a rampant second half display. Torres was shown a harsh 81st minute red card, but in the second half he turned the game on its head. The Spaniard rampaged around the White Hart Lane pitch like a man possessed, not since his heyday at Liverpool had I seen him this agile, this dangerous and so eager to impress. The introduction of Juan Mata at half time changed Chelsea from a first half floundering side, frequenting the long-ball tactic, to a team that looked fluent, creative and threatened Spurs’ 1-0 lead with almost every attack. Mata’s free kick found John Terry to head home, and as Mourinho punched the air in delight just to my right, I could feel the Chelsea of old coming alive.

And Torres’ display — even though the ‘red-mist’ briefly descended as he petulantly scratched Verotnghen in the face in an altercation — filled me with great faith that the Spaniard is back to his best. On two occasions in the second half he skipped past two, three, then four Tottenham defenders before being thwarted by Hugo Lloris and then picking out Oscar. Torres looked a foot taller than in previous sightings, he bullied Tottenham’s defense, and Mata the magician in the central attacking role meshed Frank Lampard, Ramires and Oscar together. All the talk before the game was about Mourinho facing his old understudy Andre Villas-Boas. Well, the master proved he still has the upper-hand with his shrewd tactical switch at half time. And if Saturday’s second half against Spurs is anything to go by, Mourinho’s Chelsea are getting close to their marauding best. You’ve been warned.

Premier League Schedule – Week 6

Result Recap & Highlights
Aston Villa 3-2 Man City Recap and watch here
Everton 3-2 Newcastle United Recap and watch here
Fulham 1-2 Cardiff City Recap and watch here
Hull City 1-0 West Ham United Recap and watch here
Man United 1-2 West Brom Recap and watch here
Southampton 2-0 Crystal Palace Recap and watch here
Stoke City 0-1 Norwich City Recap and watch here
Sunderland 1-3 Liverpool Recap and watch here
Swansea City 1-2 Arsenal Recap and watch here
Tottenham 1-1 Chelsea Recap and watch here

TOP PERFORMERS

So many standout displays this week made this very hard to pick just five, but here goes. Romelu Lukau’s sizzling first half was incredible, so clever and agile for such a big bloke. And, as is often the case theses days, Aaron Ramsey scored for Arsenal and made the top five after yet another great box-to-box display. Luis Suarez, on his Premier League return, reminded everyone what Liverpool had been missing as he scored twice and linked up superbly with his partner in crime (more on that next). And West Brom’s England U-21 striker Saido Beraihno scored the winner at Old Trafford, while John Terry rescued a point for Chelsea and defended for his life to preserve the precious point.

S.A.S. (SUAREZ AND STURRIDGE) MAY KEEP LIVERPOOL’S LOFTY HOPES ALIVE

When little Blackburn Rovers lifted the Premier League title in 1995, they had a strike partnership that was feared across the land. Alan Shearer and Chris Sutton were both England internationals, who formed a prolific partnership when placed together at Ewood Park. The acronym S.A.S. symbolized their indestructible bond that led Rovers to an English League title. I’m not saying Liverpool will do the same this season, but in the Merseyside incarnation of S.A.S. they’ve got a real chance of at least making the top four. If Luis Suarez — returning from his 10-game ban to score twice against Sunderland in the 3-1 win — and Daniel Sturridge stay fit, Brendan Rodgers’ Liverpool have a chance of doing something special this campaign. Sturridge scored the first and set up Suarez for twice, and the telepathic understanding between the two was evident for all to see, Brendan Rodgers believes they’re the best forward partnership in the Premier League… are they? When the Reds got on the ball, both players would make darting moves to the flank, then converge to combine in the central area after one quick look to see where they both were. Of course this partnership flourished before Suarez’ ban last season, so they’re starting where they left off. Liverpool’s fans must be saying ‘long may this continue.’ The S.A.S. are on a mission.

TIME FOR MANCHESTER UNITED FANS TO PANIC?

Premier League Star Performers

Player Reason
1. Romelu Lukaku (Everton) 2 goals, scintillating 1st half
2. Aaron Ramsey (Arsenal) 1 goal, dug deep in CM
3. Luis Suarez (Liverpool) 2 goals, clinical on PL return
4. John Terry (Chelsea) 1 goal, rock at back, leader
5. Saido Beraihno (WBA) 1 goal, full of energy from MF

Oh dear, oh dear, David Moyes’ start to life at Manchester United really isn’t going as planned. The shock 2-1 loss to West Bromwich Albion on Saturday further compounded his dismal start to life managing in the shadow of Sir Alex Ferguson. United looked sluggish and devoid of attacking panache against the Baggies, who, to their great credit, gave it a real go at Old Trafford and were deserved winners.

Now this could go one of two ways for Moyes. His squad will either fold and completely go into a shell, lose multiple games and struggle away in seventh or eighth spot by Christmas… or they’ll come roaring back and challenge for the title. But I don’t see the latter happening until he adds some new players in January. The problem for Moyes is he now possesses too many players who’ve been at United for too long under Ferguson, and they are almost waiting to get that famous ‘hairdryer’ as a kick up the back side. But lads, he’s retired… that’s not going to happen. If you look at Moyes’ old club Everton, Roberto Martinez has kept a strong core of the old Everton side, but brought in the likes of Romelu Lukaku, Gareth Barry and James McCarthy to freshen things up. The only new face the Red Devils possess is Marouane Fellaini. And for Moyes’ sake, United’s directors need to spend big in the January transfer window to give him a team of his own. Instead of expecting him to work wonders with the side Ferguson built.

ROUTE 1 FROM THE USA, HOWARD AND GUZAN KINGS OF THE ASSIST

No goalkeeper had recorded an assist after the first five weeks of the Premier League season… so just for good measure the US national teams top two ‘keepers both weighed in with a helper, much to the delight of fans, pundits and teammates alike. Brad Guzan spotted Andreas Weimann’s run against Man City and the former Chivas USA shot-stopper drilled a booming drop kick right into the Austrian’s path and he beat Joe Hart to seal Villa’s remarkable 3-2 comeback win over City. With the assist, Guzan became the first for ‘keeper to set up a goal in the PL this season. But not to be outdone by his countryman and direct competitor, Everton’s Tim Howard smashed a quick ball forward that Lukaku got on the end of to score on Monday night. Two American goalkeepers collected two assists on the same weekend. Not bad guys, but your main job is too keep the ball out…. what the heck, USA, USA, USA!

WHEN WILL CHELSEA RECALL LUKAKU?

With three goals and and assist in his first 83 minutes as an Everton player, Romelu Lukaku is certainly making parent club Chelsea sit up and take notice as he’s dazzling during his loan spell. No Chelsea striker has scored this season so far. But on Monday night against Newcastle the towering Belgian attacker scored after just five minutes, adding to his game-winner at West Ham the week before, and then added a second before half time. It was a scintillating first half of forward play as Everton won 3-2, and the giant Belgian even laid on a delicate assist for Ross Barkley. Chelsea need a big target man to help share the burden between Torres and provide competition, but Lukaku deserves to be playing regularly. If he carries on this magnificent start to the season, he may be wearing the Blue of Chelsea again before you know it. A recall is in the cards.

GOALS GALORE (COMPARED TO OTHER WEEKS) IN WEEK SIX

Yes, we applaud great defensive play and wonderfully flamboyant possession, but let’s not kid ourselves, we all love to see the ball rippling the back of the old onion bag. So far this season, much to the annoyance of soccer purists, we haven’t seen too many goals. With the goals per game average now up to 2.26 after 60 games, that’s a big leap from 1.90 after 30 games. There were some howitzers over the weekend, check out the top five goals below.

While PSG has won the title, Areola’s playing for his future

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PARIS (AP) Although Paris Saint-Germain has easily won the French title, Alphonse Areola still has plenty to play for.

The next four games could be crucial in deciding whether PSG keeps the goalkeeper or tries to sign a big name in the transfer window, possibly Thibaut Courtois. The 25-year-old Areola is the same age as Courtois, but has nowhere near the international standing of the Chelsea keeper.

[ MORE: Turkey hands bid plans to UEFA for EURO 2024 ]

It is hard for Areola to stand out, however, in a team noted almost singularly for its attacking prowess. While PSG has already scored more than 100 league goals, and remains on course to reach 100 points this season, Areola has rarely been talked about.

The common perception is that PSG will thrash teams in the French league, so letting in a goal or two is irrelevant.

However, Areola has been one of PSG’s most consistent players this season, and last Sunday he made a personal record of eight saves in a 1-0 win at Bordeaux.

He was also one of the few PSG players to come through the loss to Real Madrid in the last 16 of the Champions League with any credit. Without Areola’s shot-stopping, and particularly his bravery rushing off his line, the 5-2 aggregate loss would have been bigger.

With 104 goals, PSG’s attack is the best in the league by far and has netted 25 more than deposed champion Monaco.

But PSG’s defense is also the best and Areola has conceded only 21 goals in the 31 he has played. Although PSG has dominated most of those, losing only twice all season, he has still made on average four saves per game.

Having replaced Kevin Trapp as No. 1, Areola has missed only three league games all season. It represents a reversal for both.

When Trapp was signed by former coach Laurent Blanc in 2015-16, Areola went on loan to Spanish club Villarreal. He established himself as regular in Villarreal’s side and gained further experience in the Europa League. Spanish media were largely impressed by his consistency and his agility on the goal-line.

He returned to PSG and battled with Trapp for the starting position last season. But coach Unai Emery seemed unsure who he really preferred, with Trapp starting 24 games to Areola’s 14. PSG ended up losing the title to Monaco.

But the hierarchy is much clearer now and the error-prone Trapp, once hailed by Blanc for his passing out from goal, is the one expected to leave.

Areola has further incentive to do well with the World Cup coming up. He is challenging Marseille goalkeeper Steve Mandanda to be France’s No. 2 behind Hugo Lloris in Russia. For now, Areola is a squad member but has yet to make an international appearance under coach Didier Deschamps.

But he has done well at every level for France, starting with the under-16s a decade ago. He got his first taste of international success when he helped France win the Under-20 World Cup in 2013.

While Paul Pogba was one of the stars of the tournament, Areola’s crowning moment came in the final itself. France drew 0-0 with Uruguay and he saved two shots in the penalty shootout. Prior to the shootout he had a word with France’s designated penalty takers, confidently telling them “do your job and I’ll do mine.”

With Emery almost certain to be replaced next season, it promises to be a frenetic offseason of buying and selling at the club.

But whoever replaces Emery should perhaps think twice before letting Areola leave. The Parisian-born Areola came through the youth ranks at PSG, as did center half Presnel Kimpembe and midfielder Adrien Rabiot.

Star-studded sides like PSG often import their best players and fans are happy to see them arrive, because it shows ambition. But they nevertheless identify more closely with homegrown talents such as Areola.

More AP Ligue 1 coverage: https://apnews.com/tag/Ligue1

Jerome Pugmire on Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/jeromepugmire

Infantino has ‘full confidence’ in Samoura amid ethics issue

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ZURICH (AP) FIFA President Gianni Infantino says he retains “full confidence” in secretary general Fatma Samoura after an attempt to embroil her in an ethics investigation.

[ MORE: Turkey hands in bid plans to UEFA for 2024 EUROs ]

Samoura has expressed irritation at “totally ridiculous and baseless” claims she broke FIFA rules by not declaring an alleged conflict of interest in the 2026 World Cup bidding contest.

FIFA has not specified the exact nature of the complaint or the progress of any ethics investigation after it was alleged she was a relative of former Senegal player El Hadji Diouf, who is an ambassador for Morocco’s bid.

Samoura insisted on Wednesday the former Liverpool forward “is not a member of my family and therefore everything is crystal clear.”

FIFA’s top administrator received a public show of support from Infantino.

“I can confirm my full confidence in Fatma Samoura to lead the FIFA administration,” Infantino said in a statement to The Associated Press on Thursday.

The former United Nations official was hired by Infantino in 2016 months after he was elected as Sepp Blatter’s successor.

Morocco is due to take on a joint bid from the United States, Canada and Mexico in the June 13 vote for the 2026 World Cup host.

Photo: Flamengo supporter tattoos club jersey on body

MAURÍCIO DOS ANJOS VIA VICE
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A supporter in Brazil has taken fandom to a whole new level with a piece of body art that shows his devotion to the club.

[ MORE: Prince-Wright’s Premier League picks ]

Maurício dos Anjos, a passionate Flamengo fan, has been a life-long supporter of the Rio de Janeiro-based club, and has the tattoo to prove it.

While it may look like body paint, Dos Anjos has a tattoo on the upper-half of his body depicting the Flamengo jersey, and it’s pretty awesome.

“People ask me if I don’t find it strange that I’m always wearing a Flamengo shirt. And I just don’t,” dos Anjos told VICE. “To me, it’s normal. But it doesn’t seem like anyone I talk to about it actually dislikes my tattoo.”

In total, Dos Anjos says the body work took over 90 hours and 30 sessions to complete the tattoo.

Has the perception of MLS really changed?

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When David Beckham arrived in Los Angeles back in 2007 his presence changed the complexion of Major League Soccer for all the right reasons, and the perception of the growing league changed.

[ MORE: Go behind the scenes at NYCFC’s new training facility ]

Over the years, MLS has strived to move into the upper-echelon of the global game, in an attempt to compete with the likes of the Premier League, Bundesliga and La Liga, but naysayers still indicate to this day that the United States’ top flight lacks the quality of the aforementioned.

Phrases like “retirement league” and “uninspired” have been used to describe MLS in the past, particularly when it comes to the league’s willingness to spend boatloads of cash on notable players well past their prime.

Examples such as Andrea Pirlo, Steven Gerrard and Rafael Marquez have at times dampened the perception of MLS due to the lack of quality on the pitch from those players, along with several others that had previously boasted extensive resumes.

Now, we’re at a time where MLS has picked up its scouting, with clubs focused more on younger, more skilled talents from South America and Europe.

That has led to major signings over the past several years, such as Ezequiel Barco, Miguel Almiron, Diego Rossi and Jesus Medina, to name a few.

Has that changed the overall complexion of MLS though?

On Thursday, Kevin De Bruyne‘s agent, Patrick de Koster, suggested in an interview that the Belgium international would likely “finish” his career in MLS.

“For now, he’s very happy at this club,” De Koster said. “We always look what the best solution for the player, both financially and football wise. Kevin’s future? I can see him finish at Los Angeles.”

This comes on the heels of a 36-year-old Zlatan Ibrahimovic joining the LA Galaxy in a move that has sent shockwaves across the league and the world because of the Swede’s great presence on a global scale.

It’s not to say that players like Ibrahimovic, or previous signings like David Villa and Didier Drogba cannot help the overall growth of MLS, because they certainly bring an awareness to the matches and draw attention to their respective clubs.

However, the long-term viability of MLS has been and will continue to be sustained on youth players succeeding in the league, as well as being able to draw promising young talents into the top flight of the U.S.