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

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With Newcastle having downed Tottenham earlier today, title-hopefuls Manchester City suffered a setback of their own as Phil Bardsley and Sunderland downed the Citizens at the Stadium of Light on Sunday.

Bardsley scored after a major defensive mistake from the City back line, and the home defense did its job after as City’s red-hot partnership of Sergio Aguero and Alvaro Negredo produced nothing significant in front of goal.

Like Spurs earlier, Manchester City wasted a host of shots – 23 of them to be exact – and Manuel Pellegrini’s bunch will be ruing their lack of creativity, not something said often this season.

The game began as a harsh, physical midfield battle with City bringing little width as they lumped all their midfielders relatively centrally.

Very little took place at the Stadium of Light until a goal lit up the home crowd in the 21st minute.  Phil Bardsley locked himself onto a ball from Wes Brown, and after a defensive mix-up he clinically finished past Pantilimon for a surprising home lead.

Martin Demichelis and James Milner collided in an attempt to mark Bardsley, and it freed the defender to slot past the massive Romanian keeper.

The goal sprung the game wide open, as both teams pressed for more.  Sergio Aguero flew a header wide in the 32nd minute which he’ll wish he had back, as Alvaro Negredo’s cross came beautifully across the face of goal to Aguero at the back post.

Adam Johnson, causing City all kinds of problems down both wings, nearly won a penalty battling with Milner on the left flank but referee Mike Dean said no as both players were battling for an advantage.

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The animated figure of Gus Poyet on the sidelines has energized Sunderland in recent weeks.

The match also featured some crunching tackles, with Javi Garcia earning a yellow card midway into the first half for his efforts.  Sebastian Larsson nearly found himself into the book or worse, but somehow Mike Dean let him off the hook for a horrible challenge on Garcia that got no ball and all shin.

That challenge left Garcia substituted off at halftime for the attacking-minded Jesus Navas, and he helped build some attacking presence.  The game, however, slipped back into the early first-half form of a midfield battle.

Ki Seung-Young had a chance from long-distance in the 58th minute but his slicing effort was always going wide.

Following that Manchester City began to assert their second-half dominance on the ball, but like Spurs earlier in the day could not produce a dangerous final ball.  Sunderland’s defense remained very rigid and maintained its shape, and City never got seriously in past the back four until late searching for an equalizer.

Finally, in the final 10 minutes, the sense of urgency set in for Manchester City still down the early goal.  Substitute Edin Dzeko and Alexander Kolarov had some serious attempts on Vito Mannone’s goal, but Dzeko hit wide and Kolarov put the ball into the side netting.

Sunderland put every single player back behind the ball as City threw everything forward, but there was absolutely no space between the Black Cats players.

It’s a statement win for Sunderland, who remain in 19th position but are now in sight of the exit from the relegation zone, where three weeks ago they were in dire straits.  Manager Gus Poyet has come in and picked up two wins where Paolo Di Canio couldn’t get one.

GOALS:

Sunderland – Bardsley 21′

LINEUPS:

Sunderland – Mannone; Celustka, Bardsley, Brown, O’Shea; Ki, Larsson, Colback, Johnson (Borini, 87′), Giaccherini (Gardner, 72′); Fletcher (Altidore, 77′).

Manchester City – Pantilimon; Richards (Zabaleta, 71′), Demichelis, Lescott, Kolarov; Milner, Toure, Garcia (Navas, 45′), Nasri; Aguero, Negredo (Dzeko, 71′).

Report: Arsenal interested in Leicester keeper Kasper Schmeichel

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According to a report by The Sun, Arsenal is monitoring the progress of Leicester City goalkeeper Kasper Schmeichel.

The rumor does make sense. With Petr Cech at 34 years old and having a poor season in front of net and backup David Ospina failing to challenge him for the starting job, the Gunners are looking elsewhere to bring in a potential future starter.

Schmeichel has been one of the best goalkeepers in the Premier League the past two seasons. Last season he led the Foxes to the Premier League title, organizing a stunningly good defensive line of patchwork players. This season, the defense has largely regressed and let Schmeichel down, but he has still performed well and has the metrics to remain one of the league’s top shot-stoppers.

The Danish keeper is 30 years old himself, but that puts him in his prime for a goalkeeper. He has been with Leicester City since 2011, and he will tick 250 appearances for the club with his next match. Schmeichel was rumored to be a member of the secret player delegation that worked hard to see Claudio Ranieri pushed out of the club, a sentiment which he and the other players have strongly denied.

Still, with an improbable Premier League title in hand and an appearance in the Champions League quarterfinals now on the cards, there probably isn’t much else for him at Leicester City. It’s possible Schmeichel could look to bank on his past performances and secure a move to a bigger club this summer.

Should Arsene Wenger stay with Arsenal past this season, a possibility that looks more and more likely, he could look to move on from Cech despite signing the former Chelsea goalkeeper just two summers ago.

Diego Costa injured, but will stay with Spain squad for friendly

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Chelsea striker Diego Costa pulled up in Spain training on Sunday, and with the Blues in first in the Premier League and Costa in great form, there were obvious concerns.

With Costa struggling with leg and ankle injuries, the RFEF informed Chelsea that there was an issue, and Costa was pulled from training and sent for tests. X-Rays at the local hospital in Madrid were negative, and he’s rejoined the squad.

According to the RFEF, doctors will continue to monitor the 28-year-old and he will continue with the national team for the rest of the international break. With a World Cup qualification win over Israel already in the books and just a friendly against France to go on Tuesday, it’s odd that Spain would risk Costa moving forward, but they will continue to keep him around.

Costa has scored 18 goals this season to lead the Blues, and he scored in the win over Israel. Spain takes on France in Saint-Denis on Tuesday, with both teams leading their World Cup qualification groups. Spain has a goal-differential lead on Italy with both teams miles above the rest of the Group G, and France is ahead of Sweden by three points in Group A, with the Netherlands back in fourth.

Foul or flop? Player “headbutts” referee, is sent off

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Well, there must be something in the water down in Brasilia, because things got a little weird this evening.

Flamengo drew with Vasco da Gama 2-2, but that was just the start.

In the 54th minute, with Vasco da Gama leading 1-0 at Estadio Nacional Mané Garrincha, 36-year-old Luis Fabiano was sent off for “headbutting” the referee. Headbutting is in quotes because looking at the video, it certainly appears there was little to no contact, and the referee flops.

Yes, the referee flopped. Take a look:

To be fair, Fabiano was already on a yellow, so getting in the referee’s face even without the headbutt/pelvic thrust would likely still have seen him sent to an early shower.

So the former Porto and Sevilla man was sent off, and Vasco da Gama was down to 10 men. Immediately after the red card, Flamengo took advantage, powering in a pair of goals via Willian Arao and Orlando Berrio to take the lead 2-1. But Vasco wouldn’t quit, and they earned a penalty five minutes into stoppage time, which Nene buried for the 2-2 draw.

To top things off, a player named Yago Pikachu scored the opener for Vasco da Gama, which was followed by a delay in the game seven minutes later after a power surge in the stadium. Go figure.

Lletget diagnosed with foot sprain, escaping further damage

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Word has arrived from the LA Galaxy camp that will see USMNT fans feel relieved as Sebastian Lletget has escaped the news many feared.

The young attacker was impressive in the first 18 minutes of the United States’ 6-0 win over Honduras, but was injured minutes after scoring the opening goal and could not continue. Replays showed that Lletget got his foot caught underneath a defender in the process of a hard challenge on the right wing.

There was concern that Lletget would be out for a significant amount of time, but the Galaxy announced that after testing over the weekend, Lletget did not suffer any structural damage and was diagnosed with a left foot sprain.

[ MORE: USMNT adds Paul Arreola to roster, drops Lletget, Brooks, Morris ]

Lletget will visit a specialist on Monday to determine a plan for recovery, and it’s possible that he will still have to miss some time in the near future. The Galaxy visit Vancouver on Saturday, and his status for that match has to be considered up in the air. They then host Montreal on April 7.

While Lletget obviously misses out on the next USMNT game at Panama on Tuesday having already been dumped from the roster, he will most definitely be available for the June games against Trinidad & Tobago and Mexico, and will likely be an option for Bruce Arena given the manager’s history with Lletget at Los Angeles.

The United States have been struck with a collection of injuries that all occurred just before the international break, hampering the squad significantly. Bobby Wood, Jordan Morris, and Fabian Johnson all went down in the days before reporting for international duty, and the team lost Lletget and John Brooks in the Honduras win. Lletget’s departure could see Alejandro Bedoya into the starting lineup on Tuesday, with the Union midfielder having replaced Lletget in the Honduras match. Also in contention is Jermaine Jones, who could come in after his suspension and push Darlington Nagbe onto the wing.