Manchester City's Aguero celebrates with teammmate Silva after scoring a goal against West Ham United during their English Premier League soccer match at the Boleyn Ground in London

Premier League Playback: City-slickers tricked, Superfan Mourinho, Townsend dazzles

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PELLEGRINI’S MIND GAMES PAY OFF

Prior to Manchester City’s 3-1 pummeling of West Ham United on Saturday evening, City’s Chilean manager Manuel Pellegrini started early on the type of mind games he’ll need in his PL debut season and beyond.

“I didn’t know United had conceded a late equalizer,” Man City defender Micah Richards said. “The manager said they had won, and that Arsenal and Chelsea had won so we thought we had to win against West Ham. Maybe it was a bit of reverse psychology. We just knew we had to win. We couldn’t drop points.”

Clever boy, Manuel, very, very clever.

You see for City’s players, the thought of losing any ground they’d built up over city rivals Manchester United is unbearable, they wanted to keep their foot on the pedal as their illustrious neighbors struggled along. And that’s exactly what they did on Saturday evening in East London, while United struggled against Saints earlier in the day.

(MORE: Check out the latest Premier League Standings)

With Sergio Aguero latching onto a sumptuous defense splitting pass in the first half and finishing with the refined aplomb we expect, the Citizens were on their way. After the break the pint-sized Argentine popped up with a second as he rose like a salmon at the near post to head home David Silva’s free kick. Speaking of Silva, my word, the swaggering Spaniard was simply sublime. He caressed balls into narrow spaces West Ham’s defenders dare not enter, and Aguero set him up with a cheeky back heel to masterfully stroke home City’s third and final goal after the Hammers had threatened a brief and unsubstantiated comeback.

City’s swaggering panache keeps turning on, almost with a flick of the switch. Devastating displays against Newcastle, Manchester United and now West Ham prove their attacking flair is better than any team in the PL. Dreams of clinching a second PL title in three seasons are starting to return to the Etihad, as they’ll only get better as the season goes on. That thought must be spurring City on and scaring the life out of others. Plus the thought of piling more misery on Manchester United acts as motivation, too.

THE ANDROS TOWNSEND SHOW

Relentless, magical, stunning… whatever word you use to sum up Townsend’s display in Tottenham’s 2-0 win over Aston Villa on Sunday probably wouldn’t do it justice. This guy is on fire. After a dream week in which the 22-year-old made his full England debut and scored in a crucial World Cup qualifier to help his country make Brazil, he also signed a new five-year contract for Spurs. And he capped that all off with a dazzling display against Villa on Sunday, scoring the first and giving Ashley Westwood a torrid afternoon.

Premier League Schedule – Week 8

Result Recap & Highlights
Aston Villa 0-2 Tottenham Recap and watch here
Arsenal 4-1 Norwich City Recap and watch here
Chelsea 4-1 Cardiff City Recap and watch here
Crystal Palace 1-4 Fulham Recap and watch here
Everton 2-1 Hull City Recap and watch here
Man Utd 1-1 Southampton Recap and watch here
Newcastle United 2-2 Liverpool Recap and watch here
Stoke 0-0 West Brom Recap and watch here
Swansea 4-0 Sunderland Recap and watch here
West Ham 1-3 Manchester City Recap and watch here

For Townsend this season has been a dream and after spending time away from Tottenham on nine different loan spells over the past few years, he’s earned his dramatic rise to stardom. Watching him in action for England reminded me of Theo Walcott, full of pace, forward thinking and always eager to unleash full velocity on opponents. Seeing Townsend at his marauding best is quite a sight, plus he has more end product and looks like a more composed winger than Walcott. Plenty of people are jumping aboard the Townsend bandwagon.

I’m one of them.

TOP PERFORMERS

Tough choice this weekend, but a few guys definitely stood out from the crowd. At Arsenal Mesut Ozil continues to do the business with consummate ease, as this week he dismantled Norwich City in the first half and helped himself to another two goals. Elsewhere, Aguero may have got the goals to seal City’s win but Silva pulled all the strings to make the magic offense sparkle. An in-form Silva spells trouble for the rest of the PL. Southampton’s defense is the meanest in the league, with just three goals conceded after eight games. Savvy Croatian center back Dejan Lovren has been a terrific addition from Lyon, and his last-gasp strike (that was later credited to Adam Lallana) grabbed Saints a point at Manchester United. He’s already scored the winner against Liverpool earlier in the season, talk about clutch. Fulham had a breakout win against Crystal Palace on Monday, with central defender Philippe Senderos bagging a great goal and looking confident and dominant at the back. He’s recapturing the form which saw him star for Arsenal as a youngster. And finally, we’ve already mentioned him but that man Townsend was a delight to watch. How much better can he get, and was the real replacement for Gareth Bale under Spurs’ noses the whole time?

CONCERN GROWS AT OLD TRAFFORD

Okay, this is getting rather serious now. Eight games into the season and it’s turning into a nightmare beginning for David Moyes and Manchester United. The only plus is that they’re just eight points adrift of league leaders Arsenal, it could be much more. United’s troubles don’t stem from having a bad squad. Yes, some of them may be old and prone to injury, as was evident on Saturday as both central defenders Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic were out injured. Johnny Evans and Phil Jones were paired at CB for the first time this season and looked disjointed. But Moyes’ substitutions were, and continue to be, extremely bizarre.

He brought on Danny Welbeck, who scored one PL goal all last season, and 39-year-old Ryan Giggs whose beard is getting greyer by the day. They had Javier Hernandez and Antonio Valencia sitting on the bench, Moyes should’ve finished Saints off rather than settling for what they had. Another case of mismanagement from Moyes, who has to take the blame for United’s poor start.

Recently when I popped into the NBC Sports studios to rank my top five PL teams, United just sneaked in at five due to the goalscoring prowess of Robin van Persie and Wayne Rooney. On Saturday against Southampton it was RVP’s turn to come to the rescue, as his first half strike managed to grab a point for the Red Devils. Their dramatic slide is worrying and no matter how good United’s strike duo are they can’t do it all on their own. In midfield they’re faltering, while at the back thy look shaky, confused and uneasy. They’ve used plenty of defensive combos so far this season, and in the final 20 minutes they keep dropping deeper and deeper to try and preserve a 1-0 lead against Southampton. No disrespect to the Saints, but United should’ve been looking to cap off the win and grab two or three goals, not be happy with what they had. Moyes used to do that at Everton, he needs a more attacking mentality with his United squad.

Premier League Star Performers

Player Reason
1. Andros Townsend (Spurs) 1 goal, electric pace all day
2. David Silva (Man City) 1 goal, creative hub for City
3. Mesut Ozil (Arsenal) 2 goals, makes it look easy
4. Dejan Lovren (Saints) 1 assist, dominant CB display
5. Phil Senderos (Fulham) 1 goal, powerful play at CB

ARSENAL, CHELSEA MOVING THROUGH THE GEARS

And while Moyes struggles to kick United on through the gears amongst plenty of groans and unrest, two men quietly dismantling bottom half PL fodder are Jose Mourinho and Arsene Wenger. Chelsea and Arsenal both recorded 4-1 wins against Cardiff and Norwich City respectively, and both showed their class late on. Both the Canaries and the Bluebirds put up plucky fights away to their illustrious opponents, but the class and depth of Chelsea and Arsenal shone through brilliantly towards the end of the game. Aaron Ramsey for Arsenal and Oscar for Chelsea both came off the bench to add gloss to solid performances, as the London clubs set themselves up nicely for massive Champions League clashes.

By the end of the game, Chelsea and Arsenal were hitting fifth gear, even though they didn’t need to, as they’d already smashed the opposition into submission. But the relentless juggernauts and deep squads both teams have bode well for an assault on the UCL, PL and other cups as the season plays out.

CAN ETO’O DO THAT?

One moment changed Chelsea’s Saturday around, and it turns out it may have been illegal. In the 33rd minute Cardiff ‘keeper David Marshall bounced the ball before aiming to dropkick the ball up field. But on the bounce, he committed the cardinal sin which all goalkeepers wake up in cold sweats about… he didn’t check over his shoulder. And Marshall wished he would’ve as Samuel Eto’o pounced like a predatory cheetah to kick the ball away as it bounced up from the glistening Stamford Bridge turf and back towards Marshall’s hands. The ball broke to Eden Hazard, who squared to Eto’o but the Cameroonian striker fluffed his lines, only for Hazard to sweep the ball into the net and make it 1-1.

Time stood still, Cardiff’s bench jumped up from the dugout incensed, Hazard and Eto’o had a laugh and a joke, while referee Anthony Taylor let the goal stand. Malkay Mackay and the Cardiff City backroom staff were livid, and in terms of interpreting the FIFA rules on this one, I have to say I agree with Mackay’s angry demeanor.

It was clever from Eto’o and worth a shot if it came off. If you don’t buy a ticket you can’t win the raffle, right? But referees, fans, players and managers all know the laws of the game are open to interpretation. Chelsea got lucky, Cardiff not so much. ‘Thems the breaks.’ If you remember back to the late 90’s, (watch here) Coventry City striker Dion Dublin hid behind the goal before waiting for Newcastle ‘keeper Shay Given to roll the ball out of his hands. Dublin then nipped around Given and tapped the ball into an empty net. That was different as Given clearly didn’t have possession of the ball. Since then, goalkeepers have made an extra effort to check over their shoulders before bouncing the ball or rolling it onto the floor to kick upfield. Marshall, under FIFA rules, didn’t let the ball out of his possession as the ball was going back to his hands. Eto’o was in the wrong, so was Taylor… and Marshall will now be destined to earn royalties from soccer blooper videos for the rest of his life.

TWEET OF THE WEEKEND

Staying at Stamford Bridge for one more storyline from an eventful game, 17-year-old Sean Buxton From Essex had the time of his life as he spent most of the second half sat next to legendary manager Jose Mourinho. But Buxton wasn’t on the bench, Mourinho came and sat next to him! After remonstrating with ref Taylor, the 50-year-old Portuguese manager was sent away from the dugout and walked into the stands to sit with the fans, much to Buxton’s delight.

Watch it all unfold, right here.

NEWCASTLE, LIVERPOOL DELIVER DRAMA, RIGHT ON CUE

This game is always earmarked for live TV broadcasts and you can see why, it always deliver. The opening half hour was turning into a slightly dour affair, then bam, Yohan Cabaye spanks in a beauty for Newcastle. Wham, Mapou Yanga-Mbiwa takes down Luis Suarez for a PK, gets a red card and Steve Gerrard gets his 100th PL goal just before half time. After the break 10-man Newcastle went for it, youngster Paul Dummett put them ahead, before Daniel Sturridge made it 2-2 late on. It was a blood and thunder affair the PL is known and loved for, these two side didn’t disappoint as wave after wave of attack and counter-attack was lapped up mercifully by the baying crowd of over 52,000 fans at St. James’ Park. All of the fans in the vast cathedral of English soccer went home happy, entertained and grateful. A timely reminder of the delight of a PL game, forget sublime defending and tiki-taka, I want more of this. The rest of the PL clearly took note of Newcastle vs. Liverpool in the early kick off, as 34 goals hammered in at a rate of 3.4 per game in week 8. Good job setting an example, guys.

FULHAM BACK WITH A BANG

If you were worrying about the Cottagers, trust me I was, then you should stop that right now. Their comeback 4-1 win against Crystal Palace showed the grit, determination and guile you need to gut out wins in the PL. And oh yeah, it helps if you score two screamers in the first half, and another terrific finish just after the break. Take a bow Steve Sidwell, Pajtim Kasami and Philippe Senderos, absolute beauties. The latter strike is below, while as for Kasami’s screamer, I spoke with Martin Jol about the Macedonian winger after the game against Stoke when he put in an eye-catching display. “He is probably one of the fittest players in the league if you look at the stats,” Jol said. “I am very happy with him.” No doubt the Dutchman was delighted with his goal of the season contender to put Fulham on their to a massive win.

Watch Live: Burnley vs. Watford (Lineups, Stream)

BURNLEY, ENGLAND - APRIL 19:  Sean Dyche the manager of Burnley applauds the home fans during the Sky Bet Championship match between Burnley and Middlesbrough at Turf Moor on April 19, 2016 in Burnley, United Kingdom.  (Photo by Ian MacNicol/Getty Images)
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Burnley host Watford at Turf Moor on Monday (Watch live, 3 p.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBC Sports) in their first-ever meeting in the top-flight.

The Clarets have just one win so far this season while high-flying Watford is on the hunt for their third-straight Premier League victory.

WATCH LIVE ONLINE HERE

Sean Dyche was a former captain and then manager of Watford and the Burnley head coach has plenty of respect for the Hornets, but all of that will go out of the window as he tries to beat Walter Mazzarri‘s side on a chilly early fall evening in Lancashire.

In team news Burnley start with Sam Vokes up top on his own without the suspended Andre Gray, with Dyche packing the midfield.

Watford bring in Nordin Amrabat replaces the injured Daryl Janmaat.

LINEUPS

Burnley: Heaton; Lowton, Keane, Mee, Ward; Marney, Hendrick; Boyd, Defour, Gudmundsson; Vokes. Subs: O’Neill, Flanagan, Kightly, Tarkowski, Arfield, Bamford, Robinson

Watford: Gomes; Cathcart, Prodl, Britos; Amrabat, Capoue, Behrami, Pereyra, Holebas; Deeney, Ighalo. Subs: Pantilimon, Kaboul, Zuniga, Kenedy, Watson, Guedioura, Success

Premier League Playback: How can Chelsea improve defensively?

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CHELSEA A DEFENSIVE MESS

Following Chelsea’s humiliating 3-0 defeat at London rivals Arsenal on Saturday, Antonio Conte‘s eyes glazed over as the following words came out.

He was in a state of rage after yet another embarrassing defensive display, an area of the game the Italian coach prides himself on being a master at.

“We must work a lot. If someone thinks this season it is easy, we must work a lot to improve and to change the situation. I think that now we are a great team only on the paper. Not on the pitch,” Conte said. “To be a great team, I prefer to be a great team not only on the paper but also on the pitch because the pitch speaks. The pitch is the truth. The pitch is the most important thing for us. Not the words. Not the paper. We must change this.”

But how?

The most obvious answers is personnel and that appears to be Conte’s plan with reports already surfacing that he will phase out both Gary Cahill and Branislav Ivanovic in the coming weeks as John Terry and Kurt Zouma return from injury. To me, that means one thing: 3-5-2.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

Conte switched to the formation he mastered with Juventus and the Italian national team for the final 35 minutes of Chelsea’s drubbing at Arsenal and it seemed to work a little better, but it’s tough to tell how well it worked because the game was already over.

Something drastic needs to change in formation and personnel because the mindset of the current crop of defenders doesn’t seem to be strong enough to deal with what’s being thrown at them. Ivanovic came out after the game and said the players were not carrying out Conte’s instructions. That’s a huge problem.

Another problem is that Conte did not get the players he wanted in the summer. Reports suggested he went after center backs Giorgio Chiellini and Leonardo Bonucci but instead Chelsea signed David Luiz with many suggesting the deal wasn’t exactly what Conte wanted but Luiz’s connections with the club saw it pushed through.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule | stats ]   

Conte is now left with a messy situation in defense.

Yes, mistakes happen, but his side have given up at least two goals in each of their last four games. That’s not good enough. Conte knows it and so do Chelsea’s players but the worrying thing for Conte is that on Saturday that apart from Gary Cahill and Thibaut Courtois screaming criticism at teammates, there was a real lack of direction out on the pitch. Without Terry, that’s to be expected, but the 25-year-old won’t be around forever. Chelsea must find a solution.

“I have to solve the situation. That is the most important thing. The situation is that every game we concede two goals, at a minimum,” Conte said, furiously. “For this reason, three back or two back or four back, I don’t care. It is important to solve the situations. I must find the right solution for this team because in every game we are conceding two goals. I work a lot to find the right solution.”

Three at the back is worth a go. Using the formation and personnel below when Terry and Zouma are fit should improve Chelsea’s display but only when individuals cut out huge errors can Conte really kick on his project at Chelsea.

—– Courtois —–

—- Zouma — Terry — Luiz —

—- Azpilicueta —-  Kante —- Matic —- Hazard —- Alonso —-

—- Costa —- Batshuayi —-

To me, that team above is Chelsea’s Best XI at the moment.

Away from the defensive issues, Eden Hazard looked lost out wide against Arsenal, bring him inside to influence the game and make the most of N'Golo Kante‘s supreme ability to intercept and win tackles. Marcos Alonso and Cesar Azpilicueta as wing backs are good enough on the ball to deliver crosses, something Willian, Pedro and others haven’t done consistently this season. Then up top, it is time for Diego Costa to get a partner in crime with Michy Batshuayi starting.

Again, all of these lineup changes are irrelevant if Chelsea’s entire team doesn’t adopt pride in doing the simple things correctly on the defensive side of things. You could tell as his post-match press conference drew to a close that Conte was getting more enraged by the second. He tapped on the table. He raised his voice. He took long, reflective pauses as he sighed deeply.

Let’s put this into perspective a little: it’s not the end of Chelsea’s title bid, even if Conte wasn’t exactly brimming with confidence when asked about it. Losing at home against Liverpool and away at Arsenal is no disgrace but for a Chelsea team billed as title contenders and meant to be tough to break down after acquiring their managers penchant for defensive excellence, this has been a bad few weeks.

I asked Conte why his teams have been so sloppy from the start in games in recent weeks. Like their bad defending, he simply can’t explain it and seems genuinely stunned.

“I was a footballer and it happens in one game. It can happen,” Conte said. “You don’t have a good performance for many reasons. I hope to improve this situation because this is the second consecutive defeat after Liverpool. They are great teams, Liverpool and Arsenal. We must reflect on this because we had two defeats in two big games. For this reason we must be humble and understand the moment. To understand we need to work a lot and improve to change our story.”


SPURS, ARSENAL, LIVERPOOL CHASING PERFECT CITY

A more positive story which has dominated the early weeks in this season is Manchester City’s excellence under Pep Guardiola. Following their 3-1 win at Swansea the Spanish coach has now won all 10 of his games in charge of City across all competitions and they sit top of the table with 18 points and a 100 percent record. Pretty easy this Premier League stuff, right Pep?

In all seriousness, apart from facing Manchester United away from home, Guardiola knows the fixtures have been kind to his team. No disrespect to teams like Bournemouth, Swansea, Sunderland or West Ham, but most title-chasing teams will also beat them. The next stretch is where we will find out just how good Guardiola’s side are, especially without Kevin De Bruyne who could be missing for up to a month with a hamstring injury.

[ MORE: Latest Premier League standings ]   

City face Tottenham, Everton and Southampton in their next three games, a real step up in opposition, plus they also have a UEFA Champions League clash at Barcelona and an EFL Cup match at Manchester United to negotiate. Jostling for position just behind the clear front runners are three teams: Tottenham, Arsenal and Liverpool.

Spurs are unbeaten and edged past Middlesbrough without the injured Harry Kane. Their manager Mauricio Pochettino wants them to be more clinical but they’re digging deep and getting the job done. The two teams with the more likely staying power to challenge City appear to be Arsenal and Liverpool.

As bad as Chelsea’s defending was, Arsenal’s offensive talents dazzled on Saturday with Alexis Sanchez’s pace terrifying in a central role up top and Mesut Ozil’s close to his bamboozling best. The Gunners look to have finally rectified any issues over their shaky defense and with Sanchez and Ozil combining, Arsene Wenger is a happy man as he celebrates his 20th anniversary in charge of the Gunners this week.

For Liverpool, well, they’re flying. Jurgen Klopp‘s side has scored more goals than any other team in 2016 and they brushed aside 10-man Hull City 5-1 with minimum fuss. When Sadio Mane, Adam Lallana, Roberto Firmino and Philippe Coutinho get going, there are few clubs who can stop them. The only issue remains not only defensive lapses but also, where does Daniel Sturridge fit in? Klopp will provide an answer to that question another day but for now his side are slowly building momentum and with no European action this season, he can work longer and harder on the training ground to fine tune his already well-oiled machine.

City are already many people’s favorites to win the league but the chasing pack is already showing plenty of promise that this will not be a one-horse canter to the title. Remember, we’ve only had six games. It’s a marathon, not a sprint.


NO ROOM FOR ROONEY

Jose Mourinho finally bowed to the suggestions of all of those “football Einsteins” and it worked a treat. Mourinho left his captain and talisman Wayne Rooney on the bench along with Marouane Fellaini and the balance in Manchester United’s midfield instantly looked better.

The Red Devils breezed past Leicester City 4-1 on Saturday at Old Trafford with Paul Pogba flourishing in a more advanced midfield role alongside Juan Mata and Ander Herrera sweeping up magnificently in front of the back four. It seems like Mourinho has found a winning formula, one that doesn’t include Rooney.

It has to be said that Leicester helped them out with their woeful set piece defending on three of United’s four first half goals, but there was a renewed energy, zip and purpose about United’s play, especially in midfield. The balance between Pogba, Mata and Herrera was spot on and it allowed the former to unleash his true self as he scored his first-ever goal in a United shirt, flicked delicate balls behind Leicester’s defense and was a general nuisance. Leaving out Rooney got the best out of Pogba. We all know how this is going to end.

Closing in on being the all-time leading goalscorer for United, Rooney will still play his fair share of games but at the age of 30 it seems like he’s coming to the realization that he will have to pick and chose which games to play in to prolong not only his United career but his effectiveness when he does step on the field.

“He’s my man, I trust him completely. He’s as happy as I am at this moment. He’s a big player for me, for United, a big player for this country,” Mourinho said afterwards.

He’s a big player for United, no doubt. It’s just that Pogba is bigger, younger and, crucially, better in that advanced midfield role. There’s simply no room for Rooney to start regularly anymore in this United team.


WEST HAM’S WOES

I was at the London Stadium on Sunday and it was clear all is not well at all levels of the club.

West Ham United were hammered 3-0 by Southampton on the pitch (their captain Mark Noble admitted afterwards it could’ve been 6-0) and in the stands there were still a few issues with the Hammers’ new home as fans in both the home and away sections were ejected by heavy-handed security staff.

After five defeats from their opening six PL games, Slaven Bilic‘s side are spiraling out of control. Dimitri Payet looks lost, the defending is poor and their lack of a clinical goalscorer is hurting West Ham badly. On top of all of that the move to the Olympic Stadium has not gone well initially. After infighting among West Ham fans in previous defeats at the stadium, there was more of a somber atmosphere inside on Sunday with most of the home end empty long before the final whistle.

The situation is bad but it appears West Ham have hit rock bottom.

Cast your mind back to pretty much every new stadium opening in the PL in years gone by. There have always been teething problems, issues with fans complaining about the view being too far away and things which seemed like a big deal at the time but now seem like nothing. A perfect storm of negativity has been created at West Ham, coupled with their shock Europa League exit in the playoff round and their worst-ever start to a PL season.

Their joint-chairman David Sullivan and David Gold issued a statement on Monday saying “there have been factors which have contributed to the poor start with injuries to key players and some key decisions which have gone against us. But we are not going to make excuses.”

The Hammers can’t afford to make excuses but when they work at the kinks at their wonderful new home of just under 60,000, all of this unrest will seem a million miles away. The only issues remain on the pitch. West Ham shouldn’t get dragged into a relegation battle but they must stop the rot against Middlesbrough at home next weekend. Another abject performance and defeat in front of their own fans is not an option. No excuses.

Premier League Playback comes out every week as PST’s Lead Writer and Editor takes an alternative look at all the action from the weekend. Read the full archive, here

FIFA ending racism task force denounced as shameful betrayal

ZURICH, SWITZERLAND - FEBRUARY 25:  FIFA presidential candidate HRH Prince Ali Bin Al Hussein addresses the UEFA XI Extraordinary Congress at the Swissotel on February 25, 2016 in Zurich, Switzerland. FIFA will hold a Extraordinary Congress in Zurich tomorrow, 26th February to decide the next President of FIFA.  (Photo by Richard Heathcote/Getty Images)
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MANCHESTER, England (AP) FIFA’s abolition of its anti-racism task force was denounced as a shameful betrayal on Monday as the governing body went on the defensive to reaffirm its commitment to fighting discrimination.

The Associated Press revealed Sunday that the anti-racism group was being dismantled after FIFA decided that its mission had been completed after three years.

Kick It Out , English soccer’s anti-discrimination organization, said it was “perplexed” by FIFA’s decision, given the World Cup is being staged in 2018 in Russia “which is notorious for racism and abusive activities towards minorities.”

Jordanian federation president Prince Ali said he found it “incredibly worrying” that the task force was being scrapped given the “very real and apparent” discrimination problem that remains in soccer.

“The fight against racism is far from over and the notion that the current FIFA leadership believes that the `task force’s recommendations have been implemented’ is shameful,” said Prince Ali, a former FIFA presidential candidate and FIFA vice president. “Now the idea that FIFA believes that it’s the right time to disband its anti-racism task force is ridiculous.”

Prince Ali believes the task force should have been empowered to work further with soccer authorities and governments to use the sport to tackle discrimination in wider society.

“There is still so much work to do, and FIFA must show leadership, take responsibility for reform and be accountable if change isn’t put into practice,” Prince Ali said.

“Transparency, trust, credibility and integrity are the values that should run through everything FIFA does. Not tackling the plague of racism and discrimination properly is an absolute betrayal of those values.”

The task force was established in 2013 by then-FIFA President Sepp Blatter and headed by Jeffrey Webb, a vice president of world soccer’s governing body until he was arrested in 2015 as part of the American investigation into soccer corruption.

Webb, who pleaded guilty to racketeering charges, was replaced in September 2015 as task force chairman by Congolese federation president Constant Omari.

“The reality, as with many programs within FIFA, is that the task force was never given real support since its conception and its role was more about FIFA’s image than actually tackling the issues,” Prince Ali said.

FIFA Secretary General Fatma Samoura fended off the criticism, insisting her organization remains committed to combatting discrimination in the world’s most popular sport.

“The task force had a very specific mandate that to our knowledge it has fully fulfilled,” Samoura said at the SoccerEx convention. “Its recommendations have now been turned into a program and a strong one.”

Samoura was appointed in May as the organization’s first female and first African top administrator of world soccer’s governing body as part of the overhaul under Gianni Infantino. The Senegalese former United Nations official said her “presence here is a strong testimony that for FIFA, it is a zero tolerance policy” on discrimination and it is an inclusive organization.

Responding to criticism of the task force being shut down, Samoura said, “We can live with perceptions, but we are taking very seriously our role as the world governing body of football to fight discrimination.”

Kick It Out urged FIFA to publish a “clear and concise strategy” on its fight against discrimination and promotion of equality. It was one of three organizations in the running to win FIFA’s new diversity award from Samoura at a ceremony at SoccerEx later Monday.

Although racism is no longer rampant in English soccer, 402 incidents of discrimination were recorded by Kick It Out last season – up more than 40 percent from two years earlier, although reporting mechanisms have been enhanced.

“There is clear evidence that discrimination, prejudice and hate are on the rise in developed societies, particularly in Europe but also in different forms across the world,” Kick It Out said in a statement. “Football should seek to lead the way in combating such intrusions.

“It is clear that organizations that are actively campaigning against racism and discrimination will be deeply disheartened to hear news of the disbandment, as they look to FIFA for leadership in a game which is so popular across the world.”

The pressing problems for FIFA are in Russia with less than nine months until the country stages the Confederations Cup, the warm-up event for the 2018 World Cup.

Earlier this month, European soccer’s governing body, UEFA, ordered Russian club Rostov to close a section of a stadium for a Champions League game as punishment for the racist behavior of fans.

The most recent research from the Moscow-based SOVA Center and the UEFA-affiliated FARE Network reported a surge in the number of racist displays by Russian soccer fans, with most cases going unpunished. Researchers logged 92 incidents of discriminatory displays and chants by Russian fans in and around stadiums in the 2014-15 season, compared to a total of 83 for the previous two seasons combined.

Rob Harris can be followed at http://www.twitter.com/RobHarris and http://www.facebook.com/RobHarrisReports

PSG’s defender Aurier sentenced to prison

MADRID, SPAIN - NOVEMBER 03:  Serge Aurier of Paris Saint-Germain in action during the UEFA Champions League Group A match between Real Madrid CF and Paris Saint-Germain at estadio Santiago Bernabeu on November 3, 2015 in Madrid, Spain.  (Photo by Denis Doyle/Getty Images)
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Paris Saint-Germain defender Serge Aurier has been handed a prison sentence after being found guilty of assaulting a police officer.

[ MORE: Bradley to Swansea?

Aurier, 23, was convicted of striking a police officer with his elbow in May after being asked to take a breathalyzer test outside a Paris nightclub.

The Ivory Coast defender has appealed the verdict but he has been sentenced to two months behind bars and has been fined $650 and has to pay $1687 in costs.

This is not the first time Aurier has been involved in controversy off the pitch as he was suspended by PSG last February after posting a video on social media which saw him ridicule his former manager Laurent Blanc. He later apologize for that incident but now he’s in plenty of trouble again.

Seeing as Aurier has appealed the decision from the French court, he will be able to play in PSG’s UEFA Champions League game against Ludogorets on Wednesday.

In a statement posted on the club’s website, PSG addressed Aurier’s current situation following his conviction.

“Serge Aurier appeared personally before the Paris court to answer the charges against him. The club takes note of his conviction. An appeal was made to the output of the hearing by counsel for the player. Thus according to the rules of criminal procedure, Serge Aurier is again presumed innocent pending the decision of the Court of Appeal. Pending this decision, the player is allowed to continue the exercise of his profession in France and abroad.

“Furthermore, the club wishes to stress the professional attitude of the player since his return to training on July 4. Meanwhile, Paris St Germain reaffirms its commitment to respect the forces and their missions. No further comment will be made by the club by the appeal.”