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Quick Six: Top stories from the Premier League weekend

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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.


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.


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.


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.


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]


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.

Serie A: Napoli go top for first time in 25 years; Inter a close 2nd

Gonzalo Higuain, SSC Napoli
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A quick roundup of Monday’s action in Italy’s top flight…

Napoli 2-1 Inter Milan

For the first time since the final day of the 1989-90 season, Napoli are top of Serie A all by themselves after a top-of-the-table clash with previous leaders Inter Milan.

Gonzalo Higuain bagged both goals for the Azzurri, the first of which came after just 65 seconds. His tally on 62 minutes held up as the game-winner after Adem Ljajic pulled one back for Roberto Mancini’s side in the 67 minute. The opener (below video) was a powerful finish from inside the penalty area which served as a strong reminder as to why a club like Arsenal is consistently linked to the Argentine striker.

Sassuolo 1-1 Fiorentina

Fiorentina, who had a chance to stake their own claim to the top spot, dropped two points away to seventh-place Sassuolo earlier in the day, opening the door for Napoli to go top with their victory. After shooting out of the gates red hot (6 wins in their first 7 games), the Viola have now drawn back to back games — to Empoli and Sassuolo — and find themselves third, two points behind Napoli.

Borja Valero put Fiorentina ahead after five minutes on Monday, but Sassuolo equalized through Sergio Floccari just before halftime to keep their own dreams of European qualification alive.

Serie A table

Matchup by matchup: Picking a favorite for MLS Cup 2015

Portland Timbers FC
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We’re T-minus 137 hours to the kickoff of MLS Cup 2015, between Columbus Crew SC and the Portland Timbers.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s MLS coverage ]

When the two sides meet at MAPFRE Stadium on Sunday (4 p.m. ET), the general public will have picked a slight favorite to hoist MLS Cup, just like any other game. Only, this one’s a bit tougher to call — there’s no clear-cut favorite as is usually the case in MLS Cup, so we’ll do our best to explore a few key matchups that might slant Sunday’s title tilt in one direction or the other…

Crew SC width (Waylon Francis, Harrison Afful, Justin Meram, Ethan Finlay) vs. Timbers width (Jorge Villafana, Alvas Powell, Rodney Wallace, Dairon Asprilla)

  • Pinning the wingers back — There’s two ways to beat Crew SC: 1) sit with eight or nine men behind the ball and frustrate them through a lack of space to attack; or, 2) pin Finlay and Meram deep inside their own half, defensively, by getting your full backs forward and forcing them to defend. It’s doable, but it’s not easy. On the other side, best of luck to Wallace and Asprilla with the tracking back they’ll be forced into with perhaps the best attacking right back in MLS, Afful, and Francis overlapping on either side. Fanendo Adi could find himself on an island very quickly if the Crew SC full backs get forward as often as they’d like.
  • Where the help comes from — That’s the biggest issue for Portland, who ever since dropping Darlington Nagbe into midfield, play with a lone defensive midfielder, Diego Chara. He’s great at covering the entire field and providing help to blow up an opposing attack, but he can only be on one side of the field at a time. This means Borchers and Ridgewell will be stretched wider and forced to defend Finlay and Meram in space, where they’re oh so deadly.
  • Advantage: Crew SC

[ MORE: Crew SC announce MLS Cup sold out 15 hours after qualifying ]

Kei Kamara vs. Nat Borchers and Liam Ridgewell

  • All it takes is one chance — Neither one of Borchers or Ridgewell can physically compete with Kamara’s rare combination of speed and athleticism — to be fair, few center backs this side of the world can. Therefore, 90 percent of “defending” Kamara will be staying tight to the 22-goalscorer during the regular season and, with any luck, not losing track of him once the ball gets out to the wings. Once Kamara gets that yard of space in any direction and the ball goes up on the cross, the center backs’ chances of winning the next ball are much, much lower. That said, Kamara will find far less space against Borchers and Ridgewell (and Diego Chara) than he enjoyed against Montreal and New York thus far in the playoffs. There’s very few center back duos with the experience and nous of the Timbers’ backbone.
  • Advantage: Timbers

[ MORE: Beckham group abandons yet another stadium plan, site in Miami ]

Timbers midfield three (Diego Chara, Darlington Nagbe, Diego Valeri) vs. Crew SC midfield three (Tony Tchani, Wil Trapp, Federico Higuain)

  • Nagbe the key to balance — Darlington Nagbe will, one day, be an MLS Best XI central midfielder. Today is not that day, though. He’s still a work in progress, and probably the most exploitable individual on the field in Crew SC’s eyes. Tchani and Trapp are, in my opinion, the best deep-sitting midfield duo in the league, and they’ll press, harry and harass Nagbe for 90 (0r 120) minutes, probably starting a fair few of those deadly counter-attacks in the middle third of the field.
  • Advantage: Crew SC

[ MORE: Timbers reach first MLS Cup | Crew SC to host MLS Cup 2015 ]

Gregg Berhalter vs. Caleb Porter

  • Lineups set themselves — Neither coach is likely to throw out a huge surprise before kickoff — dance with one that brought you, or something like that. Up until recently, I was completely convinced that Porter was vastly overrated and didn’t understand the constant adoration that surrounded the man his first two or three years in charge. Everything was a bit stale and rigid, organized, but lacking flair. Then he moved Nagbe into midfield to allow his biggest game-changer more opportunities on the ball to affect the game much more. This leads me to believe Porter is a bit more flexible in seeing his team and system operate in slightly different ways, but only barely.
  • Advantage: Timbers

Crew SC announce MLS Cup 2015 sold out 15 hours after qualifying

Wil Trapp, Columbus Crew SC
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The building formerly known as Crew Stadium has hosted its fair share of famous soccer games since it opened in 1999 — dos a cero, anyone? — and Sunday’s MLS Cup 2015 looks set to rank right up there among them.

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Roughly 15 hours after advancing to this year’s MLS Cup, which they will host this Sunday (4 p.m. ET), Columbus Crew SC announced on Monday that MAPFRE Stadium is officially sold out.

Crew SC president of business operations Andy Loughnane addressed the fanbase in a blog post on the club’s official site Monday afternoon and said, “As of late this morning we are sold out of the extra capacity seating that was created for MLS Cup at MAPFRE Stadium. While there is a small chance that additional seats could be released for purchase as a result of MLS holds being returned, we are sold out of all known available seats.”

[ MORE: Beckham group abandons yet another stadium plan, site in Miami ]

Crew SC, making their second MLS Cup appearance in club history (2008 champions), will host first-time MLS Cup contestants, the Portland Timbers, on Sunday.

PL clubs combined to pay out $200 million in agent fees in 2015

Liverpool Unveil New Signing Christian Benteke
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What a time to be an agent in the footballing world, eh? The rich just keep getting richer and richer and richer.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s PL coverage ]

The steady increase in transfer fees being paid for players — bad, good, great and amazing alike — has made quite a few “selling” clubs rich reach over the last decade or two, to be sure, but it’s also made another group of people obscenely rich: player agents.

As the soccer world has gone crazy with its “now, now, now” approach — managers must win now, or they’re fired; new signings must become stars now, or they’ll be sold; etc. — agents are the ones making out like bandits — no losses to be sustained on players who turn out to be flops; no future loss of wages due to taking “too long” to settle in and being labeled a flop — at the expense of clubs and, most cruelly, the players.

More than $195 million was paid out agents by Premier League clubs across the January and summer transfer windows, with Liverpool — ever the club in constant change — paying out $21.5 million in agents fees to remain top of the table for a second straight year. Manchester United, Manchester City, Chelsea and Arsenal were the four other clubs to top $15 million.

[ MORE: Premier League Payback — The Diego Costa era over at Chelsea? ]

Agents not only receive a fee when players change clubs through transfers, but can only be compensated again and again when one of their clients signs a new contract with their current club.

For instance, Wayne Rooney has signed at least four new contracts since joining Manchester United in 2004, the latest of which came barely three years after he was given a new five-year deal in Oct. 2010 upon handing in a transfer request in an attempt to force a move to Manchester City. Rooney’s current weekly wage is reported to be in the neighborhood of $450,000. His agent, Paul Stretford, will have received a sizable payday upon negotiating the deal in Feb. 2014.

At the end of the day, sports are little more than a business, and it’s the ones who play the game — the political game, that is — the best, and most ruthlessly, who are making out like bandits.