Premier League Playback: Cardiff rejoice, RVP and Rooney unite, Gunners mature

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BRAGGING RIGHTS SECURED… FOR NOW

“It was a special day for everyone in South Wales, to have the derby at the highest level. It was an excellent advert for football, I thought our stadium was fantastic, rocking from the first minute, and an atmosphere like I’ve not heard before. My players put in a great display today, especially after the unrest of the last few weeks and the buildup to the biggest South Wales derby in history. The biggest thing today was about the 27,000 fans inside the stadium and the tens of thousands of Cardiff fans watching on the TV at home. That’s for them, from my staff and my team.” – Cardiff City manager Malkay Mackay on the huge derby win over Swansea

This was Michael Laudrup’s response after Swansea City’s painful 1-0 defeat to Cardiff in the South Wales derby. “It’s always easy to brag when you win, you know? But you have to stand up, even if the other side are on top, and say ‘OK, you won. I have to accept it.’ But there’s always a next time. Remember that… There’s always a next time.”

You get the feeling that this incredibly passionate derby is really adding something special to the Premier League. Hopefully it’s here to stay for many years to come.

As I arrived in Cardiff yesterday, the pubs were bustling before noon with middle-aged men already four of five beers deep, the atmosphere at the game was electric and intense, and the sheer noise inside the stadium was deafening. To the right of the press box was an extremely animated Cardiff fan who started to hammer on the desks where the press sat, and threatened to smash up media members laptops if they wrote anything negative about Cardiff’s game. The same chap then screamed at Swansea’s pony-tailed defender Chico Flores, who took a dive in front of the home fans, “get your haircut, you Spanish wanker!”

It was that kind of game, that kind of atmosphere.

Watch this video below, that I took live from my seat inside the ground, as the Cardiff City Stadium erupted following Steven Caulker’s game-winner. That noise…

Plaudits must go to Cardiff for rolling their sleeves up, digging in and grinding out a much-needed win in front of their home fans. Swansea dominated most of the first half, but one crunching tackle from Ben Turner almost drew as big a cheer as the goal, as the Bluebirds fighting spirit surfaced visibly. Chilean midfielder Gary Medel epitomized the effort and commitment the entire team showed as the ‘Pitbull’ kept running and tackling until his little destructive legs couldn’t run or tackle anymore. Time after time he lunged into perfectly timed challenges on the edge of the box to break up the play, and the standing ovation he received in the 87th minute when he was subbed out was well earned. His passing wasn’t bad either as Medel completed 96 percent of those he attempted, the highest rating of an PL player this weekend. Cardiff is just two points from the top half of the table and, more importantly for many of their fans, now has bragging rights in South Wales until next February when they travel to the Liberty Stadium.

Premier League Schedule – Week 10

Result Recap & Highlights
Arsenal 2-0 Liverpool Recap and watch here
Cardiff 1-0 Swansea Recap and watch here
Everton 0-0 Tottenham Recap and watch here
Hull City 1-0 Sunderland Recap and watch here
Fulham 1-3 Manchester United Recap and watch here
Newcastle 2-0 Chelsea Recap and watch here
Manchester City 7-0 Norwich Recap and watch here
Stoke City 1-1 Southampton Recap and watch here
West Brom 2-0 Crystal Palace Recap and watch here
West Ham 0-0 Aston Villa Recap and watch here

BEGOVIC’S BOOMER

On Saturday at the Britannia Stadium, goalkeeper Asmir Begovic smashed a clearance 97.5 yards and into the back of the net. One bounce from box-to-box saw the ball zip over the head of Southampton ‘keeper Artur Boruc and Begovic is now Stoke’s leading goalscorer for the season.

Oh yeah, all this happened after just 12 seconds! Incredible. As the Potters struggle to score, expect to see plenty more back passes heading Begovic’s way and cries of “shoooot” from the Britannia faithful every time he’s on the ball.

A memorable moment in PL history as Begovic joined four others, Brad Friedel, Tim Howard, Paul Robinson and Peter Schmeichel, as goalkeepers who’ve scored in the top flight. Check out his goal, and the other top strikes from Week 10 below.

MANCHESTER BACKLASH – ROONEY AND RVP UNITE

After inept displays from Manchester United and Manchester City in recent weeks, with City sitting in fifth and United in eighth after somewhat shaky starts for the much-favored duo, a reaction was bound to arrive following all of the negative press. City and United smashed Norwich and Fulham respectively, as they flexed their offensive muscles with displays of brute force going forward. Man City beat the Canaries 7-0 at the Etihad, their largest victory in the Premier League, while United were 3-0 up at Craven Cottage after just 22 minutes. That ended up 3-1 but the point had been made early on by both, underestimate us at your peril, we are still well in the title race.

City has the attacking talent to tear teams apart. Just look at the 4-1 United demolition back in September. But United have yet to break out offensively. On Saturday, it was a case of Wayne Rooney and Robin van Persie ripping the Cottagers apart. They both grabbed a goal and Rooney patiently set up Antonio Valencia for the opener. With his strike RVP became the leading Dutch goalscorer in PL history with 128 goals, overtaking Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink. Despite all the moans and groans about United’s play and form, they still have arguably the two best strikers in the league.

We’ve seen Sergio Aguero and Alvaro Negredo forging a good partnership up top for City, and now it seems as if United’s star duo are doing the same. For Rooney’s goal, it seemed as though the Englishman and RVP were on the same wavelength. Van Persie was running at Fulham’s Fernando Amorebieta at pace and after a quick glance up saw Rooney sauntering on the edge of the box. Then, quick as a flash, RVP nutmegged the Fulham defender as Rooney ghosted behind the defense to tap home van Persie’s delicious set up. Telepathy, coincidence… call it what you want, but that showed me RVP and Rooney’s partnership is seamlessly slotting together. On their own they can spearhead United’s resurgence…  together they can blow the opposition away. Moyes’ United are angry, you won’t like them when they’re angry. Fulham didn’t.

TOP PERFORMERS

  • A fan favorite following his big-money move from Sevilla this summer, Chilean midfielder Gary Medel is an unsung hero and deserves the nod.
  • As for someone who’s been in here most weeks this season, Aaron Ramsey did it again on Saturday with a stunning second half volley to seal Arsenal’s massive win against fellow title hopefuls Liverpool. The Welshman continue to impress, as he scored his 10th goal in all competitions this campaign.
  • Wayne Rooney hasn’t scored that many, but he did look back to his best in the first half against Fulham, setting up Valencia and scoring one for himself. Plus his partnership with RVP will see United through this rough patch.
  • United’s neighbors Man City have struggled too, but David Silva has been in top form for a long-time now. Many believed his classy displays in 2011-12 was the main reason the Citizens won the title, well, ‘Merlin the magician’ pulled out all the tricks in City’s 7-0 demolition of Norwich this weekend.
  • Newcastle striker Loic Remy finished off Chelsea in the rain at St. James Park. The French striker has now scored six goals this season, that loan move from QPR will be made permanent soon… surely?

HULL CITY GRINDERS

Hull captain Curtis Davies just about summed up the 1-0 win over Sunderland, (who had two-men sent off and their ‘keeper injured in the first half) got to love his honesty on Twitter.

“1-0 to the Tigers…”

That scoreline has been repeated a lot this campaign, especially at the KC Stadium. Ahead of the new season Hull weren’t fancied and many expected Cardiff and Crystal Palace to do better. But after 10 games Hull has 14 points, including three 1-0 wins at home, and in true Steve Bruce fashion they’re bloody hard to beat. Even the games they’ve lost have been tight affairs, with Man City and Chelsea laboring to  2-0 home wins, while Spurs and Everton beat them by the odd goal in close encounters.

Not much more to say here, apart from what you see is what you get with the Tigers. A bruising bunch who batter others into submission and snatch wins though PKs, own goals or moments of brilliance.

Some would call my assessment harsh, but that’s how it is. Bruce and Hull’s fans won’t care, it’s getting results and will secure them at least another season in the gravy train of the PL much sooner than the other newly-promoted teams. Cliché alert: this is a results business.

GUNNERS LEARNING THEIR LESSONS

When Arsenal led 2-0 in the second half against Liverpool inside a rowdy Emirates Stadium, Arsene Wenger brought on full backs Nacho Monreal and Carl Jenkinson to shut up shop… it worked a treat. In previous games Arsenal have looked vulnerable when leading and are caught in two minds as to whether they should go for the juggler or keep what they have.

A similar problem riddled them when they faced off against Borussia Dortmund in the UEFA Champions League last week. Late on Arsenal kept surging forward as they were level at 1-1 but they got hit with a sucker punch and a slick BVB counter-attack which saw Robert Lewandowski bag the winner.

After that game, Wenger admitted his sides naivety was frustrating and they should learn when they should settle for a point rather than three, or a solid win rather than a thumping one.

But it seems as though that savvy nous he craves to close out games is back after the crucial victory against Liverpool. Also, a great stat came out of that game, as the Gunners extended their incredible record of winning the last 21 games in which they led at half time.

If that’s not Championship caliber, I don’t know what is.

JOSE’S PAIN IN THE RAIN

Correct me if I’m wrong, but I don’t think this has happens that often:

source:
A touch zone showing Chelsea’s lack of creativity in central areas. Courtesy: Opta

“I made 11 mistakes. I should have picked the other 11. I have been in this game for many years and I was smelling what was going to happen. This result is the consequence of our team that was not out there. We were too soft. We deserved to lose.

Mourinho, wrong? Yep, you heard it. But he was correct, the team selection was completely wrong. Hindsight is a wonderful thing, but when would the Brazilian flair and showmanship of David Luiz in defense really be a better option than the grit and guile of Northern Englishman Gary Cahiil on a cold, wet afternoon in Newcastle? Hint: never.

They created nothing centrally, and Newcastle were quite happy to let Chelsea have the ball wide as Oscar and Hazard dallied on the ball. Just 13 touches occurred in Newcastle’s penalty box, highlighting Chelsea’s inept offensive display in and around the danger zone as just over 7 percent of their total touches came in the final 18-yards of the pitch.

To sum it all up, Chelsea’s midfielder Oscar was wearing blue woolen gloves that looked like something his great aunt had knitted him for Christmas. Give me a break… it was the first weekend in November and temperatures didn’t dip below 55 degrees. Sure, it’s not as warm as the Copacabana right now, but Chelsea’s band of Brazilian stars and other exotic foreigners need to get stuck in and grind out results on the road. That’s the way you win titles, Mourinho knows that. And his admittance of wrongly preferring style over substance in a rambunctious setting like St. James’ Park shows he dishes out something most managers don’t do on a daily basis, the truth.

Report: Kyle Walker a top target for Manchester City

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Manchester City could be looking to bolster its backline further this summer, and the Citizens could turn to Tottenham for help.

[ MORE: Man City closing in on acquiring Monaco’s Silva ]

According to ESPN FC, Pep Guardiola‘s side is growing more and more enamored with Spurs defender Kyle Walker and believes City can acquire the experienced outside back prior to the 2017/18 Premier League season.

With City already losing Pablo Zabaleta and Bacary Sagna since the end of the PL season, Guardiola will have to address the club’s lack of depth at outside back.

Several other big clubs have been considered in the running for Walker’s services, including Chelsea, Manchester United and Bayern Munich.

The 26-year-old has been at White Hart Lane since joining Spurs in 2009 from Sheffield United and has made 222 appearances for the club in that span.

Alaves eyes upset of Barcelona in Copa del Rey final

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BARCELONA, Spain (AP) The final of the Copa del Rey pits Barcelona’s star power against a tiny Basque Country club whose biggest weapons are its grit and gnawing hunger for a taste of glory.

[ MORE: Man City closing in on Monaco’s Silva ]

Win or lose, Alaves is savoring the cup final on Saturday as the perfect finish to its first season back in Spain’s topflight in an decade.

[ MORE: Three key battles ahead of Chelsea-Arsenal FA Cup final ]

But to have a chance of winning the first major trophy in its 96-year history, Alaves’ ragtag collection of journeymen has to be squeezed of every ounce of effort by coach Mauricio Pellegrino to upset the cup-holders led by Lionel Messi.

One statistic illustrates how daunting their task will be: Messi, all by himself, has scored exactly as many goals as the entire Alaves squad this season, with 53 across all competitions.

“We will need to play a very complete match to have a chance, but we are a team that always competes to the maximum,” said Pellegrino, who is completing a noteworthy first season with the club.

The final will be the last competitive match at Atletico Madrid’s Vicente Calderon Stadium. An exhibition match the next day will be its farewell before demolition.

The final will also be the last match for departing Barcelona coach Luis Enrique, who could bow out with a third straight Copa del Rey.

Here are some reasons Alaves can believe in an upset for the ages:

DONE IT BEFORE

Alaves has already toppled Barcelona this season.

A shocking 2-1 victory at Camp Nou on Sept. 10 was Alaves’ first win since its return to the first division following 10 years in the second and third tiers.

That surprise victory set it on its way to overachieving all campaign. It reached the Copa del Rey final by defeating the more talented Celta Vigo in the semifinals, and finished the league in a meritorious ninth place.

The bad news is that Barcelona showed no mercy back in Vitoria, where Luis Suarez scored twice in a 6-0 rout.

NO SUAREZ

But Suarez won’t be available for Barcelona on Saturday, when he serves a one-game suspension after being sent off during the semifinals against Atletico Madrid.

Luis Enrique could start Paco Alcacer in his place up front alongside Messi and Neymar.

OLD AND YOUNG

Alaves is not devoid of talent.

The 19-year-old right back Theo Hernandez, who is playing on loan from Atletico, is drawing rave reviews and interest from European powerhouses, including Real Madrid.

Marcos Llorente, a 22-year-old Madrid reserve player also on loan, has impressed as a defensive midfielder.

Captain Manu Garcia, at 31, is the only player who has been with the team through its rise from the third tier in 2013.

“Our coaches are telling us that by working as a team just like we have all year, we have a chance to win,” Garcia said.

OH SO CLOSE

Alaves came ever so close to winning the 2001 UEFA Cup when it defied expectations in its first European campaign by reaching the final against Liverpool.

Jordi Cruyff, son of Dutch great Johann Cruyff, scored late to level the thriller at 4-4 and force extra time, only for Alaves to succumb on an own goal by Delfi Geli.

“I want our fans to enjoy the day,” Garcia said. “I remember (the final in) Dortmund from when I was young. I have many memories of that day and that’s why I ask our fans to be proud of Alaves, and that they make the Calderon into our stadium because that is what we will need it to be.”

MLS at Week 13: Rivalries all around, TFC goes for eight games unbeaten

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Week 13 is here and we’ve got ourselves some pretty tasty matchups, after the weekend got off to a fast start on Thursday night when the Chicago Fire downed FC Dallas.

[ MORE: MLS Power Rankings — Week 13 ]

Meanwhile, the match of the weekend likely comes in the form of Toronto FC taking on the Columbus Crew, as Greg Vanney’s side puts their seven-match unbeaten run on the line at BMO Field.

Several other intriguing fixtures, including multiple rivalries, will take place as well, particularly in the Pacific Northwest as the Seattle Sounders and Portland Timbers do battle.

Toronto FC vs. Columbus Crew — 7 p.m. EDT on Friday

It’s been seven straight matches for the Eastern Conference leaders since they last lost and Toronto FC has become the clear favorite to hoist MLS Cup through the opening two months-plus. Of course that can change in the blink of an eye. We’ve seen that with the Crew as of late, who started out hot before losing four out of their last six and falling to fifth in the East.

Seattle Sounders vs. Portland Timbers — 2:30 p.m. EDT on Saturday

There’s nothing like a Cascadia Cup match. Although both clubs aren’t exactly up to par at the moment, it’s still a rivalry match. That has to mean something, right?

Vancouver Whitecaps vs. D.C. United — 7 p.m. EDT on Saturday

The Whitecaps have picked up some steam lately, winning three of their last four, and unfortunately for D.C. they haven’t had any similar fortunes. Ben Olsen’s group are at the bottom of the East, and had it not been for the Rapids there would probably be more attention on how poorly they are playing.

New York Red Bulls vs. New England Revolution — 7 p.m. EDT on Saturday

Jesse Marsch’s club picked up an important tie against a red-hot Toronto last time out, but now they’ll meet a familiar rival on Saturday as they try to get back to winning ways. Meanwhile, the Revs have played significantly better as of late, scoring six goals in their two most recent outings.

Colorado Rapids vs. Sporting KC — 8 p.m. EDT on Saturday

Simply put, they only good thing the Rapids have on their side is that the match is at home, where the team has captured both of their wins this season. Sporting KC, meanwhile, continues to tear it up at the top of the West.

Minnesota United vs Orlando City — 8 p.m. EDT on Saturday

Orlando has come back down to earth recently, so it’s time for Jason Kreis and co. to reset. Adrian Heath and the Loons continue to suffer through the growing pains of being a new side, something Kreis can relate to from his time in New York, but Minnesota has shown positive signs during the young season.

Real Salt Lake vs. Philadelphia Union — 8 p.m. EDT on Saturday

The Union are looking really good as of late, and the winners of four straight could very well keep it up on the road against RSL, who have struggled to pick up results for much of the season.

San Jose Earthquakes vs. LA Galaxy — 10 p.m. EDT on Saturday

The Cali Clasico takes shape at Avaya Stadium as both west coast sides look for bragging rights out west.

Atlanta United vs. New York City FC — 5 p.m. EDT on Sunday

It was Patrick Vieira’s side that got the best of Atlanta when the two clubs met a few weeks back, and it’s bad news for Tata Martino’s men as NYCFC has caught more steam as they continue to rack up positive results in the Eastern Conference.

FC Dallas vs. Houston Dynamo — 8 p.m. EDT on Sunday

We’ve got ourselves a Texas Derby down in Dallas, and this could be quite the interesting matchup as both sides enter Sunday on a bit of a downturn. It’s evident both clubs have exciting offensive firepower but which side will come out on top?

Emre Can’s insane bicycle kick wins 16/17 PL Goal of the Season

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It was about as good a finish as you’ll see in any season, and Emre Can was properly rewarded by the Premier League for his efforts.

[ MORE: Man City closing in on acquiring Monaco’s Silva ]

The Liverpool midfielder won PL Goal of the Season on Friday for his audacious and seemingly impossible bicycle kick against Watford.

The goal came off a routine cross from Lucas Leiva into the Hornets penalty area, but what Can did next was simply astonishing as contorted his body and acrobatically finished an overhead kick that was the talk of the PL for the rest of the season.

Can, 23, finished the 2016/17 PL season with five goals in 31 matches for Jurgen Klopp‘s side but none can compare to what he achieved at Vicarage Road.