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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.

Stoke City announces partnership with Orlando City

during the Barclays Premier League match between Stoke City and Chelsea at Britannia Stadium on November 7, 2015 in Stoke on Trent, England.
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Americans have been heavily involved in Premier League management, including John Henry at Liverpool and the Glazer family who own Sunderland.

[ MORE: LAFC is one step closer to joining MLS, after finding home for stadium ]

Friday marked a dawn of a new relationship between the PL and MLS though, when Stoke City announced a strategic partnership with Orlando City SC.

[ MORE: Rapids-RSL highlights Week 10 action around MLS ]

The goal of the agreement between the two sides is to advance player recruitment and development, as well spark fan engagement in both leagues.

Potters Chief Executive Tony Scholes:

“It’s an opportunity for us to share best practice with Orlando in a variety of areas, primarily in player recruitment, marketing and development, but also to give both clubs chance to grow in each other’s markets,” said Scholes.

“A large number of our fans already regard Orlando as their MLS side and I know that Stoke City are already followed by many Orlando fans.

“As an established Premier League club we are always looking at new ways to develop our profile overseas and our strategic partnership will help us to develop in the United States.”

NBC’s recent coverage of the PL has sparked massive interest in the United States, giving fans various opportunities to watch matches over the course of a weekend. As MLS continues to grow as well, you can surely expect interest abroad, specifically in Europe, to grow too.

Phil Rawlins, Founder and President of Orlando City, is excited with the relationship building between the two clubs.

“It was very clear that we’ve always had a good relationship with Stoke City and it came down to us wanting to reignite that synergy and bring our brands closer together. This will be our only partnership in England, and we hope to ignite passions for both our clubs in each other’s markets.”

The pursuit of MLS to become a top league has a ways to go, but a move like this will surely only benefit commissioner Don Garber and the rest of MLS.

Follow @MattReedFutbol

Gareth Bale, Keylor Navas injuries present challenge for Real Madrid

MADRID, SPAIN - MARCH 18:  Gareth Bale of Real Madrid controls the ball under pressure from Joel Matip of Schalke uring the UEFA Champions League Round of 16, second leg match between Real Madrid and FC Schalke 04 at Estadio Santiago Bernabeu on March 18, 2014 in Madrid, Spain.  (Photo by Denis Doyle/Getty Images)
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After narrowly escaping Wednesday’s Champions League semifinal against Manchester City, 1-0, Real Madrid is facing a bit of difficult news.

[ MORE: Ben Afra drawing interest from Barcelona ]

The club has confirmed injuries to both Gareth Bale and goalkeeper Keylor Navas, despite each player going the full 90 minutes midweek. Bale has reportedly sustained a knee problem, while Navas has suffered an injury to his Achilles tendon.

The extent of the injuries is not yet known, although Bale’s appears to be less severe. With Madrid down a goalkeeper, reserve team keeper Kiko Casilla will likely take over in net for Real while Navas recovers.

Madrid will host Valencia on Sunday in La Liga, with both players expected to miss the match. Bale could reportedly return for Real’s match against Deportivo La Coruna on May 14, their final league game. The team can then turn its attention to the Champions League final against rival Atletico Madrid on May 28.

Real currently sits one point behind La Liga leader Barcelona and second place Atleti with two games to play.

Follow @MattReedFutbol

Top 5 Premier League storylines: Week 37

NEWCASTLE, ENGLAND - APRIL 30:  Jamaal Lascelles of Newcastle United reacts at full time during the Barclays Premier League match between Newcastle United and Crystal Palace at St James Park on April 30, 2016 in Newcastle, England. (Photo by Ian MacNicol/Getty images)
Ian MacNicol/Getty images
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The Foxes have pulled off the unthinkable, clinching the Premier League title, but that doesn’t mean that Week 37 won’t hold significance.

[ MORE: Full Premier League TV schedule: Week 37 ]

While the title race is no longer an option, a three-team battle at the bottom of the table has taken shape in this year’s relegation battle.

Newcastle, Sunderland and Norwich City each have their eyes set on staying in the PL in 2016-17, and despite having their fair share of down this season one team will emerge and remain in the top flight of English football.

Here’s a look at the top five Premier League storylines you should be keeping on eye on this weekend.


Newcastle could be aided by opponent — (Aston Villa vs. Newcastle, Saturday, 10 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via Live Extra 

Rafa Benitez was brought into Newcastle to save the team from relegation. Well, if the season were to end today he would have accomplished that goal. Unfortunately for he and his side though, two matches remain for the Magpies, and the two teams chasing aren’t going away.

Two points separate Newcastle from Sunderland and Norwich City, although the latter two have games in hand, which could prove crucial down the stretch. The one thing that does work in the favor of Newcastle though is their opponent, at least this week.

Aston Villa, who already knows they are being relegated, will host Newcastle on Saturday, giving the Magpies a legitimate opportunity to feast on the backline that has conceded an astounding 72 goals this season. Georginio Wijnaldum and Aleksandar Mitrovic will need to find the back of the net a few times in order to give Newcastle a chance at staying up.


Can the Black Cats scratch past the Blues? — (Sunderland vs. Chelsea, Saturday, 10 a.m. ET on USA and online via Live Extra 

The relegation battle will likely come down to the final day, which at least gives Sunderland a chance at staying up next season. The Black Cats have three matches remaining, including their dance with Chelsea. Things won’t be easy for the home side though.

Chelsea is fresh off a thrilling draw against Tottenham, which handed Leicester the PL crown and the team still has the firepower to burst out for goals at any time despite their lackluster campaign.

Jermain Defoe is undoubtedly the man to watch for the Black Cats, posting 14 goals in the league this season. If Sunderland looks to avoid relegation Defoe will surely be at the forefront of his side’s efforts to do so.


Twice as nice? — (Norwich City vs. Manchester United, Saturday, 7:45 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via Live Extra 

It may have come awhile ago, but Norwich has beaten the Red Devils this season. It came back in December, a 2-1 win at Old Trafford. Just like the two teams their chasing though, Norwich has failed miserably in stringing together positive results.

Losers of three straight, the Canaries are in desperation mode as they look to break their goalless run against United. With just 35 goals on the season and facing a team that is amongst the PL’s elite when it comes to keeping goals out, Alex Neil‘s team must work some sort of brilliance to get past United for a second time.

The Red Devils on the other hand still have a shot at the Champions League. With three games remaining, one more than the teams they are chasing, United can still mathematically jump Manchester City and/or Arsenal in pursuit of the CL. If not, the Europa League may have to do, unless West Ham has their say in the matter.


Sights set on the Champions League — (Manchester City vs. Arsenal, Sunday, 11 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via Live Extra 

Lost in the relegation battle is a meeting between two of the PL’s top sides. City currently sits three points behind Arsenal in the table, but that could all change with a victory from the Citizens at the Etihad Stadium.

In a closely-contested meeting just before Christmas, the Gunners managed a 2-1 win against Manuel Pellegrini‘s men. After recently bailing out of the Champions League semifinals though, City must has amnesia if they are to lock up the third and final automatic CL spot. Finishing fourth would mean that they have to go through qualifying in the CL.

The match goes beyond the CL though for both teams. Each side has had their share of struggles in 2015-16, so a win on Sunday could at least temporarily put those disappointments behind them.


Hammers seeking place in Europe — (West Ham United vs. Swansea City, Saturday, 10 a.m. ET on Premier League Extratime and online via Live Extra 

In many seasons West Ham would have been the PL darling. Unfortunately though, that title was taken away by Leicester, who ironically also won the PL crown.

Dimitri Payet will likely see astronomical offers this summer from Europe’s top sides if he can couple his season with a strong Euro campaign with France. That being said, he and his side still have work to do. West Ham sits five points out of the final Champions League spot and one point behind United for Europa League qualification.

Obviously the CL would be nice for a club that is still looking to make its mark on the PL, but the Europa League is nothing to sneeze at either for the up-and-coming team. A fifth-place standing would tie the club’s best finish in the Premier League Era.

Follow @MattReedFutbol

City Council approves plans for new Los Angeles soccer venue

LAFC
Los Angeles FC
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LOS ANGELES (AP) The City Council has approved plans to build a $250 million stadium for Major League Soccer’s expansion Los Angeles Football Club.

[ MORE: Can MLS teams begin to create separation in Week 10? ]

The council voted 12-0 Friday to move forward with a 22,000-seat stadium on the site of the old Sports Arena next to the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum and USC.

The 15-acre complex is also slated to include a conference center, restaurants, 140,000 square feet of plazas and streetscapes, and a soccer museum.

At its center would be the home to the new MLS team when it makes its debut in 2018.

LAFC is owned by Malaysian billionaire Vincent Tan, American venture capitalist Henry Nguyen and a celebrity-studded list of investors including Magic Johnson, Tony Robbins, Mia Hamm and Nomar Garciaparra.