Quick Six: Top stories from the Premier League weekend

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1. UNITED TOPS ARSENAL: SOMETIMES HOLDING SERVE IS PROGRESS

The ends where more impressive than the means, an early goal and some trademark David Moyes conservatism giving Manchester United a 1-0 win over Arsenal in the weekend’s big game, but consider how the Red Devils’ performed in their other big tests. They lost at Liverpool, were drawn at home by a docile Chelsea, and were blitzed in the season’s first Manchester Derby. Perhaps Sunday’s wasn’t title-wining form, but it was still progress. It was the biggest win of the still-maturing David Moyes era.

[RECAP: Manchester United 1-0 Arsenal: Van Persie header the difference as Moyes earns signature win]

Even more convincing: Manchester United are now unbeaten in nine, are up to fifth place, and are only five points back of first (still Arsenal). There’s obviously room to improve, but while struggling to find their way under their new boss, United has managed to avoid digging too deep a hole. When they start performing to their potential, they should still be within reach of the top – in position to defend their title.

2. WEARING DOWN: CONTENDERS FALL AFTER QUICK TURNAROUND

The six Premier League teams who played mid-week in Europe went 1-3-2 this weekend, and if it wasn’t for two facing each other at Old Trafford, the circuit’s Champions and Europe League participants may have gone winless. Perhaps the upcoming international break had players looking ahead, or maybe the accumulation of nearly three months of play hit hardest now, when a break was needed most? Or maybe it’s just coincidence that all of Manchester City, Arsenal, and Tottenham lost on the same weekend, with Chelsea needing a get out of jail free penalty to salvage a result at Old Trafford.

[RECAP: Chelsea 2-2 West Bromwich Albion: Hazard the hero as Chelsea survive massive scare – video]

Arsenal’s was certainly the most palatable of the results. Nobody’s going to fault them for losing at Manchester United. City and Spurs, however, lost 1-0 to teams that started the weekend in the table’s bottom half, a description that could have been applied to Chelsea had it not been for Eden Hazard’s stoppage time penalty conversion.

Even Swansea, struggling on a number of levels, gave up three goals to Stoke City. The Potters entered the weekend with seven goals in 10 games, yet at the Liberty Stadium, they were on the board twice within 25 minutes.

[RECAP: Swansea City 3-3 Stoke City: See-saw match ends in draw after Swansea comeback]

Maybe it’s just a coincidence: all these teams playing in Europe stumbling this weekend. Regardless, it seems these teams could use the upcoming break.

3. FORGED OR FORTUNE? NEWCASTLE PULLS SECOND STRAIGHT UPSET

Fourteen saves. That’s what it took for Tim Krul to turn Newcastle’s upset over Chelsea last week into the start of a streak. Today at White Hart Lane, they were outshot (31-8), out-possessed (65-35), and were nearly “passed off the park” (521-284), yet thanks to Loic Remy’s 13th minute goal, the Magpies still won. Their 1-0 victory in North London moves them into ninth place.

[RECAP: Tottenham 0-1 Newcastle: Krul’s heroics continue Spurs struggles in front of goal]

But whereas last week Alan Pardew seemed to have orchestrated the upset, this week’s win came down to an old formula anybody could pull off: Score first and hang on for dear life. It rarely works, but for the occasionally over-matching, nearly beyond hope underdog with no chance of playing with their opposition, it’s their only option.

Newcastle doesn’t quite fit that description, so it’s unclear what we can infer from their use of that approach. Judging on one match alone, you’d say this isn’t a very good team, yet they had good fortune against Tottenham. In the bigger picture, Newcastle may just be finding new ways to win. At this point, they’ve won more than they’ve lost.

4. LIVERPOOL ADDS TO JOL’S, FULHAM’S WOES

After disappointment last week at Arsenal, Liverpool bounced back, and resoundingly so. Three goals by the 36th minute and another just after halftime had the Reds up four by the 54th minute, Fulham providing the antidote to any potential post-Emirates blues. Moving away from their 3-5-2 formation, Liverpool went on to win, 4-0.

[RECAP: Liverpool 4-0 Fulham: Suarez doubles gives Reds easy win – video]

The bigger story is Martin Jol, who has somehow survived to the point where his team is bad enough to lose by four, fall to 18th, and that only re-ignites debate about his future. The Cottagers have now lost four in a row, giving up 13 goals in the process. One of those losses was at second-division Leicester (League Cup).

It’s hard for most of us to say somebody should be fired. We usually don’t know the reasons why they’ve stayed on. But it is fair to say most managers who’ve produced Jol’s results would have been gone by now.

5. GOOD WEEKEND FOR CELLAR DWELLERS

The three clubs that came into the weekend in the Premier League’s drop all got results, and while that only helped one climb out of the relegation spots, teams people had started to see as hopeless gave supporters new reason for home.

That may be a slight exaggeration in the case of Crystal Palace, the south London club still without a permanent coach, yet after a 0-0 against visiting Everton, the Eagles earned their second result of the season. Though they only saw 28 percent of the ball, they also only gave up two shots on goal. Only Phil Jagielka’s test of the Selhurst woodwork threatened Palace’s result.

[RECAP: Crystal Palace 0-0 Everton: Palace get first point in eight matches – video]

Sunderland, 19th coming into the weekend, had the most encouraging result, their 1-0 win over visiting Manchester City giving them their second win of the season. Deploying a 4-5-1, the Black Cats were set up to take advantage of Phil Bardsley’s early goal, with City earning a 24-5 edge in shots en route to their fourth loss of the season. Though the win couldn’t carry them out of 19th, Sunderland’s now up to seven points on the season.

[RECAP: Sunderland 1-0 Manchester City: Bardsley goal, staunch defending earn Poyet another Sunderland win]

Norwich, on the other hand, was able to climb out of the drop after their 3-1 win over West Ham United, a victory that should keep Chris Hughton in a job. Though the Canaries boss has inspired a general feeling of ennui among Norwich’s fan base, he produced a much-needed result on Saturday, the team’s three goals sure to temporarily placate supporters longing for the more goal-laden days under Paul Lambert.

[RECAP: Norwich City 3-1 West Ham United: Canaries comeback bags crucial win – video]

6. NO SLOWING DOUBT-DEFYING SOUTHAMPTON

There have been a few analysis pieces (from Opta, among others) suggesting Southampton are likely to regress, the quality of their shots producing a higher-than-expected number of goals from their positions. Saints, the theory holds, will see future totals fall in line with expected results, meaning fewer goals.

Leave it to Hull to help disprove that hypothesis. The Tigers have been fine this year, collecting 14 points in 10 games, but if there was a candidate for regression at St. Marys on Saturday, it was them. With early goals from Morgan Schneiderlin, Rickie Lambert, and Adam Lallana, Saints had put off their fall by halftime, with a late goal from Steven Davis giving Southampton a 4-1 win.

[RECAP: Southampton 4-1 Hull City: Saints are flying high – video]

Third place, having allowed only five goals, there’s little you can take away from Saints’ results. But conceding at a rate of less than half a goal per game is not going to continue. They’ll give more. And ft their attack really is apt to regression. Southampton will eventually fall.

Until then, Saints will continue to prove us wrong.

Galaxy’s Cole admits he enjoys Arsenal struggles

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LA Galaxy left back Ashley Cole left Arsenal for Chelsea more than a decade ago, but that hasn’t erased the bitter memories of the departure from his boyhood club.

Cole was famously involved in a “tapping up” meeting with Chelsea without Arsenal’s permission in 2005, but signed a contract extension with the Gunners. Still, he was gone a year later in messy circumstances.

[ MORE: Guardiola close to adding $43m GK? ]

As the most capped fullback in England’s history who boasts both Premier League and Champions League titles with Chelsea, Cole easily could rest on his own laurels and move on from the divorce.

But when asked whether he’s enjoying Arsenal’s current struggles, Cole couldn’t help himself.

“If I’m honest, yeah, I still think to this day. I laugh to myself. I had a lot of history there and I think the way I left was maybe a bit dodgy but the lack of respect they showed me as well.”

Cole accepts a share of the blame for his time ended at Arsenal, but says he doesn’t regret it. Still, his response is not a picture of class.

Next time, just laugh and say, “Next question,” Ashley.

“I’m not a bad guy” – Convicted murderer, new club defend signing

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A week ago, we brought you the story of goalkeeper Bruno Fernandes finding a new club despite a conviction for ordering the torture and murder of his mistress, whose body was then fed to dogs. The two were having a disagreement on child support.

Fernandes, 32, was set free from jail on a technicality and has since been signed by Boa Esporte in Brazil. He said he couldn’t “throw in the towel” on his career because he believed in himself.

Fans were outraged with the team, major sponsors pulled their funding, and an activist group even hacked Boa Esporte’s web page.

[ MORE: Guardiola close to adding $43m GK? ]

And the club is digging in its heels.

Boa Esporte’s president, Rone Moraes da Costa, reacted to protests by saying he’d rather move the team than not give Fernandes a chance to resurrect his career.

As for Fernandes, he clearly is having trouble explaining why he’s getting another chance. From The Guardian:

“What happened, happened. I made a mistake, a serious one, but mistakes happens in life – I’m not a bad guy. People tried to bury my dream because of one mistake, but I asked God for forgiveness, so I’m carrying on with my career, dude. I’m starting over.”

One mistake. Wow. There are few clubs in the world which fit the bill of being the majority of fans’ least favorite team, but Boa Esporte could get there. Surely there must be more to the story?

Nothing new about the challenges facing USMNT

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This next week may define a generation of USMNT players, but only if it goes poorly.

That may sound overly dramatic, but it isn’t. The United States started 0-2 in the final round of World Cup qualifying, earned its coach a firing, and now stares down its status in the confederation.

Honduras is coming on Friday, far from a pushover. Then it’s off to Panama for another tricky tie. In a vacuum, coming up short in one of the two isn’t the end of the world, but the Yanks will be expected to take a minimum four points. Even that would be a disappointment to many.

[ MORE: Guardiola close to adding $43m GK? ]

The crutches are gone, aside from any being used by injured players back in Germany (Bobby Wood and Fabian Johnson chief amongst them). Fifteen of Honduras’ players play domestically, and Panama isn’t much better in overall quality.

Frankly, and it’s been written before, the United States should outclass both of these foes. If Bruce Arena’s bunch doesn’t, well, it spells woe for the country’s soccer development as a whole.

For now, supporters and players have been able to cling to the thought that Jurgen Klinsmann was responsible for the Yanks’ struggles. In some ways, he most certainly was to blame for setbacks like the CONCACAF Cup loss to Mexico and the pathetic performance against Costa Rica that earned him a firing.

Several of the United States’ current elder statesmen have built legacies that can survive big hits. Tim Howard and Clint Dempsey may go down in history as the two biggest stars in program history (There will be an argument for both as No. 1 along with Landon Donovan and Claudio Reyna). DaMarcus Beasley is an all-timer, too.

Michael Bradley, Geoff Cameron, and Jozy Altidore are on track for that, too, and there’s an argument to be made the trio is already there, especially for Cameron, who’s a mainstay in the Premier League. Each has found success in Europe after getting their starts in Major League Soccer, and have etched their names into the national record books.

There’s still very little reason to believe the USMNT will miss the 2018 World Cup even with the 0-2 start. The class is just too much to consider the Yanks will finish below Panama, Honduras, and Trinidad and Tobago over the course of 10 matches (The fourth place side gets a shot at an Asian side like Saudi Arabia, UAE, or Uzbekistan in a two-legged affair).

But turning it around has to start now. The Yanks have to handle their business in these qualifiers, and make at least the Gold Cup final to build momentum toward Russia. Anything short of that is abject failure.

Again, this absolutely should happen, starting Friday. Even given the poor start, losses or even a pair of draws this week would be legitimately shocking, and set the program back ages. Howard set it up well Tuesday when he pointed out that the U.S. has gotten to points like this before, and they always belly up to the bar and outlast all comers.

A lot of fans have this nagging voice in their heads, asking nefariously, “What if they don’t?”

Podolski after golazo finale: “This is like a great movie”

AP Photo/Frank Augstein
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Lukas Podolski has won a EURO, a World Cup, and the Bundesliga with two different sides.

Only Lothar Matthaus and Miroslav Klose have been capped more than Germany’s Polish born Podolski, and he received a hero’s send-off from the home crowd at Germany’s 1-0 win over England on Wednesday.

And of course he sent himself off in style with a gorgeous goal.

[ MORE: Guardiola close to adding $43m GK? ]

Podolski said there were more than 30,000 people from Cologne at the match, where he won one of his two Bundesliga titles.

“That’s when you know where you home is, and that you’ve done a lot of good, also off the pitch,” Podolski said. “That makes me very proud.”

It was a perfect night to say goodbye, and the goal made it almost surreal (Thomas Muller called it “cheesy”).

From Goal.com:

“This is like a great movie,” he told ARD. “We win 1-0 and I score the goal.

“I know I have a left foot that was probably gifted to me by God, or someone up there, and I can always rely on it. I am proud of these last 13 years.”

Feel good hit of the Spring.