Manchester City goalkeeper Hart reacts after a Chelsea goal during their English Premier League soccer match at Stamford Bridge in London

Quick Six: Top stories from the Premier League weekend

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We know Joe Hart’s made worse mistakes this season, a perspective that leaves us looking for other answers after happened on Sunday. That’s when, near full time at Stamford Bridge, the England international came sprinting out of his box to play a ball near the edge of his penalty area. But with his Matija Nastasic on the scene, there was no need for him to come.

True, the Serbian international should have seen Hart coming and directed his header elsewhere, but City’s keeper shouldn’t have come.  Hart should have been waiting to receive his defender’s back-pass. Instead, he abdicated his goal ahead of Fernando Torres’s winner.

During NBC’s broadcast, Tim Howard was diplomatic about the error, placing blame on Hart but explaining it as a basic communication error that could happen to anybody. That seems too generous, perhaps a function of that implied goalkeepers’ fraternity that keeps number ones from being overly critical of each other. While that mistake could have happened to anybody, it would have been equally inexcusable from everybody, with the ability to correctly read the game in front of you a reasonable expectation of any Premier League goalkeeper.

Hart cost City a point at Stamford Bridge, giving a title rival two they would have otherwise been without. Would Costel Pantilimon have done the same? Or perhaps he would have be been worse in other areas – areas where Hart was fine on Sunday?

These are the basic questions Manuel Pellegrini needs to answer ahead of the January window, because even if he thinks Hart’s better than Pastilimon, England’s number one may not be better than another player City could get on the open market.


This is why Luis Suárez’s transgressions spur so much discussion. He’s more than a troubled soul lashing out with a forked tongue and carnivorous intent. With Gareth Bale in Spain, Suárez is in a one-man discussion as the league’s most dangerous player, possessing an unmatched ability to single-handedly turn games.

Saturday was a perfect example. The Uruguayan international embarrassed Jonas Olsson on the first goal, nutmegging the Swede before beating Boaz Myhilll. His second was a perfectly played header from near the edge of the box, a snap decision that seemed to catch the West Brom keeper off guard. The third, a perfectly flicked header off a second half restart, was more defensive error than individual brilliance, yet it still highlighted an rarely discussed part of Suárez’s arsenal. At 5’11” (perhaps a generous listing), Suárez is an underappreciated asset in the air.

He’s like Sergio Agüero, except more explosive. He’s more relentless than Robin van Persie; more consistently lethal than Wayne Rooney. Second on the circuit in goals with only four games played, he is the Premier League’s best striker, with comparisons between him, Mesut Özil, and Yaya Touré coming down to esoteric arguments about positional value.

On Saturday, Suárez showed the value of having the league’s biggest threat, the kind of tactics-defying virtue you also see from the likes of Messi, Ronaldo, and Ibrahimovic. Perhaps Suárez isn’t quite in that class, but in the Premier League, he’s in a class by himself.


When spring doubts about Paolo Di Canio were echoing through Wearside, the short-lived Sunderland boss got a win over Newcastle. The 3-0 victory at St. James last April not only proved vital to the Black Cats’ survival but helped temporarily consolidate Di Canio’s position. Hindsight may see that as a steep price of a year’s survival, but it illustrates the power of the Tyne-Wear Derby. One win will gloss over a slew of evils.

Gus Poyet is riding that wave today, his second half sacrifice of Adam Johnson for Fabio Borini paying off when the Italian attacker fired home a late game-winner, giving Sunderland their first win of the year (2-1 over Newcastle). Only the second goal of his Premier League career, Borini rewarded Poyet’s risky move, the new Black Cats boss electing to play Borini, Steven Fletcher and Jozy Altidore together. But having seen Johnson’s defensive error lead to Newcastle’s only goal, perhaps the former Brighton boss felt there was nothing to lose.

It’s not unlike the broader state Poyet’s inherited. If he fails, people will blame Di Canio. If he succeeds, he’ll be viewed as a savior. He has nothing to lose, and given the depths to which Sunderland has descended, the new boss may be wise to take these kind of chances.

For the kind of momentum that can be claimed in a debry? It’s certainly worth it.


Last week he was the anti-Ferguson, David Moyes seeing his team allow Southampton to come back and take a point at Old Trafford. Mid-week in Champions League, Manchester United tried to reproduce that result, though Real Sociedad never played their part. Between two close matches and their former manager’s naval-gazing book tour, it was another week that reminded Red Devils fans of what once was.

That’s why Saturday’s was such a breathe of fresh air. Instead of a day that reminded fans their team’s best performances can’t put teams away, the Red Devils came back from 2-1 down, rekindling hope some of Alex Ferguson’s mentality lingers in their DNA. If the squad can still turn water into wine, there may be hope for a title push.

It goes without saying that a team of United’s talent shouldn’t have this much trouble with Stoke City, particularly at home, but all clubs have off days. Whether this was a momentary downturn or part of a larger pattern is a bigger, more murky debate, but in isolation, the result wasn’t that bad. Three points rarely is.

Coming off a mid-week match in Champions League, United had more trouble than expected at home. They needed a late comeback to salvage a performance where they didn’t look themselves. If you had a nickle for each time that description could be applied in the Ferguson era, you’d might have enough money to buy his latest book.


Saturday saw a Premier League goal disallowed despite no justification from the game’s laws, yet nobody seems concerned. It was a blatant abuse of an official’s power — the game’s lead arbiter taking it upon himself to fill a gap in the rules — yet the offended manager only made a minor complaint. Letter of the law, Chris Houghton’s Norwich City should have won on Saturday, Leroy Fer’s 94th minute shot into an empty net giving the Canaries a 1-0 win.

Thankfully, Mike Jones didn’t let that happen. Although the match’s lead official had no codified justification for his decision, the ends justified his means. WIth Cardiff City expecting the ball back after an injury saw them intentionally play the ball into touch, Jones wasn’t going to stand for Fer hitting Ricky Van Wolfswinkel’s throw-in into David Edwards’ open net. Helping to quell a potential melee at Carrow Road, Jones simply made it so Fer’s indiscretion never happened. The throw-in was retaking with the understanding Jones would have no part in Fer’s errant passes.

Putting aside Fer’s intent, the more interesting debate centers on the man in the middle. The injury pact between teams that sees possession restored after playing into touch is an implied agreement. If one team doesn’t want to be part of it, that should be within their right. It’s rude, obnoxious, potentially dangerous and counter productive, but so is Joey Barton, and we haven’t banned him. There’s a wide range of behaviors that are both possible and allowed by the rules.

Still, if I were in Jones’s shoes, I wouldn’t have done the same thing, though I wouldn’t be certain it was the right thing to do. I would wonder if a more nefarious official would abuse that discretion. Regardless, at some point, teams should be permitted to do what’s allowed within the rules.

Yet as long teams are expected to maintain this gentleman’s agreement, it’s nice to have a few Mike Joneses around.


Last week we highlighted Arsenal’s dominance of Norwich City as a sign of their maturation. In the same light, Southampton’s control of Fulham can be seen as a meaningful benchmark of their progress, even if the result wasn’t unexpected. If Arsenal’s ability to steer clear of potential pitfalls can be lauded, Saints’ ability to put the likes of Fulham out of reach can also be seen as a sign of the staying power.

It’s one thing to motivate yourself for derbies, and if you’re a middling side, getting up to face the league’s contenders is never a problem. But having the quality to consistently transcend the reach of the league’s talented-but- lesser teams is rare. While a team like Aston Villa can occasionally take down an Arsenal, they still stumble against the league’s mere morals.

With their win, Southampton’s now unbeaten in six, winning four in that span while climbing to fifth in the Premier League. Although they also posted multiple-goal victories over Swans and Palace, those results didn’t come after Saints claimed a result at Old Trafford. After getting an unexpected point on the road, Southampton didn’t hiccup. They kept on keeping on.

By now, their loss at Norwich seems so long ago. So does their draw with Sunderland. While those blemishes to relegation candidates are alarming, they’re also from August. Since, Southampton’s moved on. And up.

French PM says Benzema has no place on national team

Karim Benzema, France
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PARIS (AP) The French prime minister joined in the criticism of Karim Benzema on Tuesday, saying the Real Madrid striker “has no place” on the France team at the European Championship in the wake of a blackmail scandal.

[ MORE: Chelsea’s new stadium plans ]

Benzema is one of France’s key players as it gets ready to host the Euro 2016 tournament, but the forward faces charges of conspiracy to blackmail relating to an extortion scam over a sex tape. He is suspected of having played an active role in pressuring France teammate Mathieu Valbuena, a case that has badly damaged his reputation.

“A great athlete should be exemplary,” Prime Minister Manuel Valls told French radio Europe 1. “If he is not, he has no place within the France team.”

The investigation, centering on wiretap evidence, started when Valbuena took legal action after being contacted by a man claiming to possess an incriminating sex tape.

In a case that could drag on for months, Benzema’s involvement has not yet been fully determined. But investigators who charged him in October believe he was approached by a childhood friend to act as an intermediary and convince Valbuena to deal directly with the blackmailers.

“If a minister was handed preliminary charges, he would no longer be part of the government,” Valls said.

Benzema denies any wrongdoing but his arguments were undermined last week when Valbuena spoke directly about his attempts to pressure him in an interview with Le Monde newspaper.

[ MORE: City now valued at $3 billion ]

The French football federation has also joined the case as plaintiff.

“There are so many kids, so many youngsters in our suburbs that relate to great athletes,” Valls said. “They wear the blue jersey, the colors of France, which are so important in these moments.”

Preliminary charges under French law mean magistrates have strong reason to believe a crime was committed, and allow time for further investigation. The charges may later be dropped. In 2010, Benzema was handed preliminary charges for soliciting an underage prostitute but was acquitted in a case that lasted more than three years and tarnished his reputation.

Benzema’s image was further dented last month when he spat on the pitch after the national anthem was played at Real Madrid’s Santiago Bernabeu stadium in a tribute to the 130 fatalities of the Paris attacks ahead of a match against Barcelona.

Benzema’s action ignited a wave of criticism on social media, prompting his lawyers to issue a statement in which they condemned “the scandalous interpretation” of the incident. Benzema, who has 27 international goals, had posted several messages in support of the victims in the days that followed the attacks.

League Cup preview: Man City, Liverpool, Everton look to make semis

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The Capital One Cup quarterfinals take place on Tuesday and Wednesday with five Premier League left among the last eight.

[ MORE: Follow League Cup scores live

Only one all-Premier League tie is set up with Southampton hosting Liverpool as Ronald Koeman pits his wits against Jurgen Klopp at St Mary’s in the tie of the round. Saints will be without captain Jose Fonte through injury, while Liverpool have Jordan Henderson and Daniel Sturridge available but both may be used from the bench as they build up their match sharpness. Saints and Liverpool drew 1-1 at Anfield last month so expect another tight encounter down on the South Coast.

PL leaders Man City welcome Championship side Hull City to the Etihad Stadium with Manuel Pellegrini aiming to win the League Cup for the second time in three years. David Silva could make his first start in over two months for City, but Joe Hart remains out injured as Steve Bruce‘s Tigers come to town.

Everton also face second-tier opposition in Middlesbrough with a tricky trip to the Riverside awaiting the Toffees. Roberto Martinez’s team have to shore up at the back after drawing 3-3 at Bournemouth in the league last weekend, as they face Aitor Karanka’s flying-high Boro who are pushing for promotion from the Championship. This one seems like the biggest banana skin for PL clubs.

Talking of banana skins, Stoke City host Sheffield Wednesday at the Britannia and although the Potters will fancy their chances of making the final four after they knocked out Chelsea in the last round, Wednesday comprehensively beat Arsenal last time out and the Owls will provide a stern test for Geoff Cameron and Co.

Below are the fixtures for the next few days, while you can click on the link above to follow all the last-eight games live.

League Cup quarterfinals


Manchester City vs. Hull City – 2:45 p.m. ET
Middlesbrough vs. Everton – 2:45 p.m. ET
Stoke City vs. Sheffield Wednesday – 2:45 p.m. ET


Southampton vs. Liverpool – 2:45 p.m. ET

Arsenal still waiting on severity of Alexis Sanchez’s injury

NORWICH, ENGLAND - NOVEMBER 29:  An injured Alexis Sanchez of Arsenal (17) is given assistance during the Barclays Premier League match between Norwich City and Arsenal at Carrow Road on November 29, 2015 in Norwich, England.  (Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images)
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Arsenal’s fans are sweating on news regarding Alexis Sanchez’s left hamstring injury and it seems as though the wait for a diagnosis will go on.

[ MORE: Chelsea’s new stadium plans ]

Arsene Wenger has come under plenty of criticism for playing Sanchez, 26, despite the Chilean star complaining of a hamstring injury before the Norwich game on Sunday, and when he pulled up clutching his left hamstring in the second half Wenger’s face was one of anger and disappointment.

Multiple reports claim that Sanchez’s injury is still being assessed by Arsenal’s medical staff as Wenger faces an anxious wait to see how long his star forward is out for.

Here’s what Wenger had to say directly after Arsenal’s draw at Norwich, as the media questioned why he would play Sanchez if he was already struggling with a hamstring complaint.

“Nobody is scientifically developed enough, not even the press, to predict exactly when a guy will be injured,” Wenger said. “I would have rested him but he felt perfectly alright before the game. We declared that he had no problem. Despite all the tests he looked alright. The players are there to play football not to be rested when the press decides that they need to be rested. He [Alexis] says it is a kick on his hamstring but I believe that is not really the reality.”

The reality is that Sanchez — who has scored nine times in 20 appearances this season — could miss some crucial games for the Gunners, including their UEFA Champions League Group F showdown with Olympiakos next Wednesday in Greece. Arsenal need a win by a two-goal margin or any win by scoring three or more goals to advance to the last 16 of the UCL, but with Sanchez out and plenty of others struggling, the dreaded injury plague struck the North London club in November, a month they always seem to falter in, once again.

[ MORE: City now valued at $3 billion ]

Santi Cazorla suffered a knee injury against Norwich and like Sanchez it’s unclear how long the Spanish midfielder will be out for. The only piece of good news to come from Sunday’s draw in Norfolk is that Laurent Koscielny should be available to play against Sunderland on Saturday (Watch live, 10 a.m. ET on USA and online via Live Extra) after overcoming a hip injury which forced him off early last weekend.

However, with Francis Coquelin out long-term, plus Theo Walcott and Kieran Gibbs making their way back slowly and long-term absentees Jack Wilshere, Danny Welbeck and Tomas Rosicky out until January, Wenger’s squad is being stretched to the limit.

Report: Chelsea, Man United to battle for Muller

Telekom Cup 2015 - "Bayern Munich v FC Augsburg"

Chelsea are set to join Manchester United in bidding for Bayern Munich and Germany star Thomas Muller.

[ MORE: Chelsea’s new stadium plans ]

Muller, 26, has previously revealed he turned down a move to United but with Pep Guardiola’s future at Bayern unclear beyond the current season, the product of Bayern’s academy may feel now is the right time to move on even though he’s contracted to the German powerhouse until 2019.

If he does, Europe’s biggest teams will be lining up and according to a report in the Daily Mirror Chelsea want to sign Muller and will make an audacious move to make him their main striker as Jose Mourino and Diego Costa‘s fallout continued with the Spanish international left on the bench during the draw at Tottenham Hotspur last weekend.

With Costa sulking, Mourinho  has been linked with moves for a number of strikers in January and next summer with Jamie Vardy, Saido Berahino and Antoine Griezmann all mentioned in the gossip columns.

[ MORE: City now valued at $3 billion ]

In the past Muller has said that he turned down “astronomical offers” to join foreign clubs and United were his main suitors. With the man who gave him his debut at Bayern, Louis Van Gaal, now in charge at United and the Red Devils continuing to spend big, Muller has been constantly linked with a switch to Old Trafford but many Bayern greats are urging him to remain at the Allianz Arena to become a Bayern legend, or at the very least join the all-conquering Barcelona rather than head to England.

Muller’s predatory finishing alongside Eden Hazard, Oscar and Willian certainly seems like a good fit at Chelsea and you can understand why they would want to break the bank to get him, but offloading Costa and others first must be the priority which is why any such deal for Muller seems unlikely to happen until next summer at the earliest.

If the man who has scored 141 goals in 325 games for Bayern is intent on leaving the Bundesliga after spending his entire career in Bavaria, then Chelsea and United will be falling over themselves to sign him.