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.

While PSG has won the title, Areola’s playing for his future

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PARIS (AP) Although Paris Saint-Germain has easily won the French title, Alphonse Areola still has plenty to play for.

The next four games could be crucial in deciding whether PSG keeps the goalkeeper or tries to sign a big name in the transfer window, possibly Thibaut Courtois. The 25-year-old Areola is the same age as Courtois, but has nowhere near the international standing of the Chelsea keeper.

[ MORE: Turkey hands bid plans to UEFA for EURO 2024 ]

It is hard for Areola to stand out, however, in a team noted almost singularly for its attacking prowess. While PSG has already scored more than 100 league goals, and remains on course to reach 100 points this season, Areola has rarely been talked about.

The common perception is that PSG will thrash teams in the French league, so letting in a goal or two is irrelevant.

However, Areola has been one of PSG’s most consistent players this season, and last Sunday he made a personal record of eight saves in a 1-0 win at Bordeaux.

He was also one of the few PSG players to come through the loss to Real Madrid in the last 16 of the Champions League with any credit. Without Areola’s shot-stopping, and particularly his bravery rushing off his line, the 5-2 aggregate loss would have been bigger.

With 104 goals, PSG’s attack is the best in the league by far and has netted 25 more than deposed champion Monaco.

But PSG’s defense is also the best and Areola has conceded only 21 goals in the 31 he has played. Although PSG has dominated most of those, losing only twice all season, he has still made on average four saves per game.

Having replaced Kevin Trapp as No. 1, Areola has missed only three league games all season. It represents a reversal for both.

When Trapp was signed by former coach Laurent Blanc in 2015-16, Areola went on loan to Spanish club Villarreal. He established himself as regular in Villarreal’s side and gained further experience in the Europa League. Spanish media were largely impressed by his consistency and his agility on the goal-line.

He returned to PSG and battled with Trapp for the starting position last season. But coach Unai Emery seemed unsure who he really preferred, with Trapp starting 24 games to Areola’s 14. PSG ended up losing the title to Monaco.

But the hierarchy is much clearer now and the error-prone Trapp, once hailed by Blanc for his passing out from goal, is the one expected to leave.

Areola has further incentive to do well with the World Cup coming up. He is challenging Marseille goalkeeper Steve Mandanda to be France’s No. 2 behind Hugo Lloris in Russia. For now, Areola is a squad member but has yet to make an international appearance under coach Didier Deschamps.

But he has done well at every level for France, starting with the under-16s a decade ago. He got his first taste of international success when he helped France win the Under-20 World Cup in 2013.

While Paul Pogba was one of the stars of the tournament, Areola’s crowning moment came in the final itself. France drew 0-0 with Uruguay and he saved two shots in the penalty shootout. Prior to the shootout he had a word with France’s designated penalty takers, confidently telling them “do your job and I’ll do mine.”

With Emery almost certain to be replaced next season, it promises to be a frenetic offseason of buying and selling at the club.

But whoever replaces Emery should perhaps think twice before letting Areola leave. The Parisian-born Areola came through the youth ranks at PSG, as did center half Presnel Kimpembe and midfielder Adrien Rabiot.

Star-studded sides like PSG often import their best players and fans are happy to see them arrive, because it shows ambition. But they nevertheless identify more closely with homegrown talents such as Areola.

More AP Ligue 1 coverage: https://apnews.com/tag/Ligue1

Jerome Pugmire on Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/jeromepugmire

Infantino has ‘full confidence’ in Samoura amid ethics issue

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ZURICH (AP) FIFA President Gianni Infantino says he retains “full confidence” in secretary general Fatma Samoura after an attempt to embroil her in an ethics investigation.

[ MORE: Turkey hands in bid plans to UEFA for 2024 EUROs ]

Samoura has expressed irritation at “totally ridiculous and baseless” claims she broke FIFA rules by not declaring an alleged conflict of interest in the 2026 World Cup bidding contest.

FIFA has not specified the exact nature of the complaint or the progress of any ethics investigation after it was alleged she was a relative of former Senegal player El Hadji Diouf, who is an ambassador for Morocco’s bid.

Samoura insisted on Wednesday the former Liverpool forward “is not a member of my family and therefore everything is crystal clear.”

FIFA’s top administrator received a public show of support from Infantino.

“I can confirm my full confidence in Fatma Samoura to lead the FIFA administration,” Infantino said in a statement to The Associated Press on Thursday.

The former United Nations official was hired by Infantino in 2016 months after he was elected as Sepp Blatter’s successor.

Morocco is due to take on a joint bid from the United States, Canada and Mexico in the June 13 vote for the 2026 World Cup host.

Photo: Flamengo supporter tattoos club jersey on body

MAURÍCIO DOS ANJOS VIA VICE
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A supporter in Brazil has taken fandom to a whole new level with a piece of body art that shows his devotion to the club.

[ MORE: Prince-Wright’s Premier League picks ]

Maurício dos Anjos, a passionate Flamengo fan, has been a life-long supporter of the Rio de Janeiro-based club, and has the tattoo to prove it.

While it may look like body paint, Dos Anjos has a tattoo on the upper-half of his body depicting the Flamengo jersey, and it’s pretty awesome.

“People ask me if I don’t find it strange that I’m always wearing a Flamengo shirt. And I just don’t,” dos Anjos told VICE. “To me, it’s normal. But it doesn’t seem like anyone I talk to about it actually dislikes my tattoo.”

In total, Dos Anjos says the body work took over 90 hours and 30 sessions to complete the tattoo.

Has the perception of MLS really changed?

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When David Beckham arrived in Los Angeles back in 2007 his presence changed the complexion of Major League Soccer for all the right reasons, and the perception of the growing league changed.

[ MORE: Go behind the scenes at NYCFC’s new training facility ]

Over the years, MLS has strived to move into the upper-echelon of the global game, in an attempt to compete with the likes of the Premier League, Bundesliga and La Liga, but naysayers still indicate to this day that the United States’ top flight lacks the quality of the aforementioned.

Phrases like “retirement league” and “uninspired” have been used to describe MLS in the past, particularly when it comes to the league’s willingness to spend boatloads of cash on notable players well past their prime.

Examples such as Andrea Pirlo, Steven Gerrard and Rafael Marquez have at times dampened the perception of MLS due to the lack of quality on the pitch from those players, along with several others that had previously boasted extensive resumes.

Now, we’re at a time where MLS has picked up its scouting, with clubs focused more on younger, more skilled talents from South America and Europe.

That has led to major signings over the past several years, such as Ezequiel Barco, Miguel Almiron, Diego Rossi and Jesus Medina, to name a few.

Has that changed the overall complexion of MLS though?

On Thursday, Kevin De Bruyne‘s agent, Patrick de Koster, suggested in an interview that the Belgium international would likely “finish” his career in MLS.

“For now, he’s very happy at this club,” De Koster said. “We always look what the best solution for the player, both financially and football wise. Kevin’s future? I can see him finish at Los Angeles.”

This comes on the heels of a 36-year-old Zlatan Ibrahimovic joining the LA Galaxy in a move that has sent shockwaves across the league and the world because of the Swede’s great presence on a global scale.

It’s not to say that players like Ibrahimovic, or previous signings like David Villa and Didier Drogba cannot help the overall growth of MLS, because they certainly bring an awareness to the matches and draw attention to their respective clubs.

However, the long-term viability of MLS has been and will continue to be sustained on youth players succeeding in the league, as well as being able to draw promising young talents into the top flight of the U.S.