Quick Six: Top stories from the Premier League weekend

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1. ARSENAL GOES FIVE POINTS CLEAR AT THE TOP

Arsenal’s stars came through. Santi Carzola opened the scoring early, Mesut Özil had an assist, and Aaron Ramsey’s back to his September form.  As much as Arsenal’s 2013-14 has started as a story of redemption, it’s also about the difference a few special players can make. Özil’s addition, Ramsey’s improvement, Olivier Giroud’s contributions – they’ve all played vital parts in Arsenal’s rise.

It wasn’t a bad loss for Liverpool, but their 2-0 defeat at the Emirates showed the small but important gap between themselves and the title contenders. Like last year’s Arsenal, they’re probably three or four improvements away from competing at the top.

But consider the fact that Arsenal, a team generally thought the fourth or fifth best in England before round one, has already established itself as a title contender. Just over a quarter of the way through the season, Arsène Wenger’s team has convinced us has already proved us wrong. For the first time since Cesc Fábregas left London, Arsenal can reasonably be thought of as a title contender. Saturday’s performance was a reminder.

Thanks to Chelsea’s loss at Newcastle, the Gunners are five points clear at the top of the Premier League. That’s bigger than Bayern’s lead in Germany (one), Barcelona’s in Spain (one), Roma’s in Italy (three), and PSG’s in France (two). Expected to struggle to retain their Champions League spot, Arsenal now has the biggest lead among Europe’s top five leagues, a testament to how quickly things have come together.

2. NO DEFENSE FOR LETTING LLORIS PLAY-ON

If Hugo Lloris wasn’t out cold, he’d at least lost his sense of place and time after colliding with Romelu Lukaku. Late in Tottenham’s trip to Everton, the Spurs goalkeeper looked destined to be subbed out after his head made contact with the Belgian’s lower thigh, the Toffees forward’s speed nearly knocking Lloris out cold.

Shockingly, Lloris was allowed to play on. PST’s Kyle Bonn:

In allowing his player to run back onto the field, [Tottenham manager André Villas Boas] failed his players and proved that when it comes to head injuries, the Barclays Premier League lacks greatly in both the knowledge of head injuries and how to properly and safely deal with them.

I suppose I want to wait until we know a little bit more about Lloris’s state and the advice Villas-Boas was given, but I suspect I’ll be on Kyle’s side before too long. It’s hard to reconcile the decisions of Lloris, Villa-Boas, and potentially Spurs’ medical staff with common sense. Head injuries should be a proceed with caution scenario. It’s a shame this needs to be reiterated.

3. CHELSEA FLOPS, HAS MOURINHO FRUSTRATED

Before we start talking about the manager we can’t ignore, Alan Pardew deserves some credit. The Newcastle boss has seen his job speculated about since round one, and not without good reason. The Magpies’ blowout loss at Manchester City on the season’s opening Monday wasn’t their only disappointing performance of the season. On Saturday, however, the mildly embattled manager took three from one the league’s big boys, a 2-0 win over Chelsea seeing Newcastle put eight shots on goal to the Blues’ two.

His back line’s been thinned out by injury, and he still doesn’t have room for his most-skilled player (Hatem Ben Arfa), but after their upset victory, Newcastle’s in ninth place. Pardew’s recent tweaks deserve a lot of credit. On Saturday, his tactics played a big part in his team’s surprise result.

Coming out of the other technical area, José Mourinho was left lamenting the “”11 mistakes” he started at St. James Park. They’re strong words from a man still trying to get his squad to play to his vision, but after three months of performancse that’ve seen Chelsea fail to reach their title-threatening potential, perhaps it was time for a wake-up call. While losing at Newcastle isn’t the end of the world, being decidedly second best is unacceptable.

But we can overstate blips. What we should look for is a pattern. Absent a larger tendency toward these performances, there’s no good case to be made that Chelsea aren’t a very good team. They came into the match unbeaten in eight games. That doesn’t suddenly become irrelevant after one loss.

But this was their worst performance of the season. If there’s any time to ask what’s wrong, this is it.

4. WHAT NOW FOR JOE HART?

Manuel Pellegrini’s already confirmed Costel Pantilimon will start mid-week against CSKA Moscow. In fact, the Manchester City boss was practically fatalistic about his goalkeeping controversy after yesterday’s 7-0 win over visiting Norwich City. Asked about promoting Pantilimon past Joe Hart (and, implicitly, the possibility of Hart regaining the job), Pellegrini said, “It’s done and I am sure [Pantilimon] will do very well.”

So that’s that. Joe Hart’s now Manchester City’s No. 2, a move that was was long overdue. Yet while Manchester City pushes on (only six points back of Arsenal, despite an uneven start), the England national team’s left to wonder: What’s to come of their number one?

We’re a week away from another international break. Hart should get some time then, but come 2014, there’s only one break between January and the end of the European season.

If he sits on the bench for the better part of seven months, is Joe Hart starting in Brazil? Perhaps. It might come down to how convincing Fraser Forster is during the few truly high-level games Celtic plays each season.

5. ASMIR BEGOVIC: GOAL SCORER

Some things need neither analysis nor explanation:

The Stoke keeper’s score held up for 41 minutes before Jay Rodriguez equalized for Southampton. Come full time, the Bosnian international’s goal had given the Potters a valuable point over the sixth-place Saints.

It took wind, timing, the right bounces and some help from Artur Boruc, but what 100-yard goal doesn’t need a little luck? Every couple of years the planets align and we get a moment like this. Previously, it was Tim Howard. This weekend, it was Asmir Begovic.

6. CARDIFF THE KINGS OF WALES

Perhaps the action didn’t match the hype, but there’s so way it could. The occasion of the first Premier League South Wales Derby’s was always destined to overshadow what happened in the match, though defender Steven Caulker will always be remembered for having delivered the Bluebirds a historical three points.

PST’s Joseph Prince-Wright:

Of course the game winning-goal came had to come courtesy of a former Swansea player, as Caulker came back to haunt his former team who he played for in their debut Premier League season. But there were no over-zealous celebrations from the man Cardiff bought to the Welsh capital for $12 million this summer, as bedlam ensued around him.

Afterwards Caulker explained why.

“It was a different experience playing against them today,” Cardiff’s 21-year-old captain said. “I always enjoyed my time there, but now I’m a Bluebird and I’m focused on the win for us and even more buzzing to get the goal. I always respect the other teams that I played for and they [Swansea] took me in a couple of years ago. So there’s no hard feelings on my behalf at all.”

FC Barcelona releases statement after terror attack

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FC Barcelona found tragedy at home on Thursday when a terrorist plot unfolded in Las Ramblas, killing 13 and injuring more than 100.

Las Ramblas is just a 20-minute ride from the Camp Nou, and the Catalan club hosts Real Betis on Sunday.

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A terrorist-driven rental van was driven at 50 mph through a crowded plaza. As of post time, two men had been arrested but the driver remained on the loose.

Saying it was sickened by the attack, FCB announced it will fly flags at half-mast, wear black arm bands during the match and hold a minute’s silence.

Here’s the full statement:

FC Barcelona wants to express its profound sorrow and utter disgust at the terrorist attack that has hit the heart of our city, la Rambla de Barcelona. The Club wishes to send our support and thoughts to the victims, their families and friends as well as the people of Barcelona and its visitors.

As a mark of respect, the flags will fly at half-mast at the Club’s facilities and the players from both teams will wear black armbands in all the Club’s matches this weekend.

On Sunday, before the 2017/18 La Liga opener against Betis, the Camp Nou will hold a minutes silence in recognition and memory of the victims.

AC Milan and Napoli likeliest challengers to Juve’s crown

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MILAN (AP) Juventus’ six-year Serie A domination could end this year.

AC Milan has reinforced its squad, Inter Milan has had some much-needed stability after four managerial changes last season, while Napoli looks set to mount an even stronger challenge this time around.

Lazio could also be surprise contenders after Simone Inzaghi’s side withstood a late comeback to beat Juventus 3-2 and win the Italian Super Cup on Wednesday.

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However, Juventus coach Massimiliano Allegri has warned the rest of Serie A that it will be a very different performance from his team in Saturday’s season opener at home to Cagliari.

“We cannot and must not play like that in the league,” he said. “This defeat brings us back to earth. Some of the players aren’t fully fit yet, so I knew it wasn’t going to be easy … but starting on Saturday you’ll see a different Juve.”

Allegri also took encouragement from the last time Juventus played Lazio in the Super Cup, in 2015.

“We beat Lazio in Beijing for the Super Cup two years ago and then had a bad start to the Serie A season, so hopefully we’ll do it the other way round this time,” he said.

Juventus has dominated Italian soccer for nearly a decade, winning three successive league and cup doubles and it will be tricky for anyone to prevent the Bianconeri from extending their league record to seven straight Serie A titles.

Milan was the last team other than Juventus to win the title and, despite having last finished in the top three in 2013, it looks the likeliest to depose the Turin-based club.

The Chinese-led consortium that purchased Milan from Silvio Berlusconi for $800 million in April has infused the club with cash and splashed out more than 200 million euros ($234 million) in the offseason.

[ VIDEO: Giovanni Reyna’s MOTM job for USYNT ]

As well as signing Italy’s top defender Leonardo Bonucci from Juventus, Milan also brought in forward Andre Silva from FC Porto; midfielders Ricardo Rodriguez (Wolfsburg), Franck Kessie and Andrea Conti (Atalanta), Hakan Calhanoglu (Bayer Leverkusen) and Lucas Biglia (Lazio); and defender Mateo Musacchio (Villarreal).

Fourth place in Serie A now guarantees qualification to the Champions League and that will be the minimum requirement for Vincenzo Montella’s team. But, if the new team gels quickly, there is the feeling that Milan could make a strong challenge for the title.

Bonucci was playing down his new side’s chances.

“Juve remains favorite and Napoli has a great chance of fighting for the title,” Bonucci said in interview with Gazzetta dello Sport. “As we are now we’re still a step below both, but we shouldn’t put limits on ourselves. After those two, I see Milan, Inter and Roma as equal.”

Napoli has finished in the top three in four of the past five seasons but even a record number of points last campaign still left it third, five points behind Juventus.

However, talk of the `scudetto’ is no longer a taboo for Napoli, which hasn’t won the title since 1990.

But, while it didn’t make any big signings in the transfer window, its biggest success of the offseason has been in keeping its band of talented players together.

It sold Ezequiel Lavezzi in 2012 and Edinson Cavani the following year – both to Paris Saint-Germain – while Gonzalo Higuain moved to Juventus in 2016.

This year Dries Mertens and Lorenzo Insigne have signed new contracts, while Marek Hamsik is just three goals away from breaking Diego Maradona’s scoring record for the club.

Mertens was reportedly pursued by a number of clubs – both in Italy and abroad – but the Belgium international, who scored more than 30 goals for Napoli last campaign, opted to extend his stay with the southern side.

“I stayed here because the team plays very beautiful football and doing that we can get a lot of joy,” said Mertens, who scored again as Napoli beat Nice 2-0 in the first leg of its Champions League playoff on Wednesday.

Napoli played arguably the best soccer in Italy last season and its attacking flair saw it score 94 goals, but it faltered against teams in the lower half of the table and coach Maurizio Sarri is hoping to have corrected that by the time it kicks of its Serie campaign at Hellas Verona on Saturday.

More AP Italian soccer coverage: https://apnews.com/tag/SerieA

Top Premier League story lines – Week 2

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The Premier League hits its second match day on Saturday, beginning with Manchester United’s trip to the Liberty Stadium to face Swansea City.

That match isn’t even in our top five as a pair of Top Four battles await Sunday and Monday.

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Can heated rivalry help Chelsea find its form?
Tottenham – Chelsea (Sunday, 11 a.m. ET, NBCSN) [ STREAM ] 

The Blues took a long time to recover from Gary Cahill‘s early red card as Chelsea lost 3-2 to Burnley on Opening Day, and know they could find themselves six points behind Tottenham after just two weeks of the Premier League season. The rivalry between Spurs and Chelsea has risen several notches in the past couple years, and Chelsea will also be hampered by suspensions to Cahill and Cesc Fabregas.

Everton starts murderer’s row of fixtures at the Etihad
Manchester City – Everton (Monday, 3 p.m. ET, NBCSN) STREAM ] 

Man City, Chelsea, Spurs, Manchester United: Those are Everton’s next three matches following a win over Stoke and Thursday’s Europa League win over Hajduk Split (The Toffees head to Croatia on Aug. 24). The good news, if there is any, is that Man City didn’t look terrific in its win over Brighton and Hove Albion. The bad news? Everton’s top men, aside from new boy Gylfi Sigurdsson, almost all played in the win over Hajduk.

Arsenal’s beleaguered defense heads to the road
Stoke City – Arsenal (Saturday, 12:30 p.m. ET, NBC) – [STREAM]

The Gunners may boast wins over Chelsea and Leicester City this month, but Arsenal conceded thrice to the Foxes and needed drama to boost three points from Opening Day. Stoke fell 1-0 at Everton but was far from a pushover.

Can Town make it 2-for-2 versus the Toon?
Huddersfield Town vs. Newcastle United (Sunday, 8:30 a.m. ET, NBCSN) – STREAM ]

Rafa Benitez’s Opening Day plans were shuttered by Jonjo Shelvey‘s poor red card, and the Spaniard won’t have his best midfielder at The John Smith’s Stadium when Newcastle faces a Town team that won 3-0 at Crystal Palace. The road sides won when these two met in the Championship last season.

Liverpool’s stumbling defense meets old pal Benteke
Liverpool vs. Crystal Palace (Saturday, 10 a.m. ET, NBCSN) – STREAM ] 

Jurgen Klopp‘s men stumbled out of the gates, even if their last minute concession against Watford in a 3-3 draw arguably shouldn’t have stood up to the linesman’s view. Benteke scored twice as the Eagles won at Anfield last season, and will certainly be up for irking his old boss once more.

VIDEO: Giovanni Reyna stars for USYNT with goal, assists

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Seldom is a U-15 match truly worth national attention, but it certainly deserves eyes when the player who stars in the Stars and Stripes happens to be the son of USMNT royalty.

Giovanni Reyna is going to be known as Claudio Reyna’s son for some time, but if he keeps up starring roles like his goal and two assist performance against Panama in the CONCACAF U-15 Championship, Claudio will move into “Giovanni Reyna’s dad” status at some point.

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That’s way down the line considering “Dad” is an American pioneer with 112 caps, eight goals and a career with Manchester City, Rangers, Sunderland, Bayer Leverkusen, Wolfsburg, and New York Red Bulls, but worth noting nonetheless.

Reyna’s goal was an absolute stunner:

And here are his two assists, putting Mexico on notice for Saturday morning’s final.