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Quick six: Top stories from the Premier League weekend

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1. CITY AFFIRMED, SPURS EXPOSED IN ETIHAD ROUT

This is why Manchester City, despite all their inconsistencies, have never lost their status as title contenders. Though their inexplicably bad road form means they’re capable of losing to the likes of Sunderland, their peak performances say this is the best team in the Premier League. At least, occasionally.

Sunday was one of those days. A goal within 13 seconds from Jesus Navas sparked City to a 3-0 lead by halftime. They doubled that margin before the final whistle, with Navas and the league’s top marksman (Sergio Agüero) each bagging braces. After their 6-0 victory, City’s scored 10 more goals than anybody in the league. Their +22 difference is eight better than league-leading Arsenal’s.

[MORE: Manchester City 6-0 Tottenham Hotspur: 13-second goal leads to blowout at Etihad (video)]

The other side of this coin in Spurs’, a team for which there may not be enough panic buttons to push. Coming into this game, the one thing they have going for them was defense. So much for that. Now a team that can’t score also has questions in defense, and to this point, they also haven’t been able to win the big games. In matches against Arsenal, Chelsea, Everton, and City, Spurs have two points. They also have new reason to doubt André Villas-Boas can make Tottenham’s offseason makeover pay off.

2. DOSE OF REALITY FROM ARSENAL BRINGS SOUTHAMPTON BACK TO EARTH

And just like that, Southampton’s six back of first. Whereas Mauricio Pochettino’s team was within a win of the top on Saturday morning, now they’re only two points out of ninth – the thin margin between Cinderella story and level most expected them to play at three months ago.

[MORE: Arsenal 2-0 Southampton: Giroud double extends Gunners lead at the top (video)]

There’ll be some asterisks thrown around because of the nature of Arsenal’s goals, but (at the risk of sounding simplistic) better players don’t make those mistakes. True, Artur Boruc and Jose Fonte’s errors were more egregious than you’d expect, but the lesser quality players you have, to more likely you are to see random breakdowns occur. Saturday’s mistakes were an overly blunt reminder that Southampton aren’t quite at a title contender’s level.

Arsenal, on the other hand, did exactly what you’d expect when a league leader hosts an upstart. They weathered Saints’ early energy to produce two good chances before Boruc wilted. Forte’s shirt pull was an act of desperation from a team who’d been proven second best. Arsenal put their guests in a position to fail.

As a result, they’ve regained some of the cushion they lost with their defeat at Old Trafford, now up four points on the rest of the Premier League.

3. NO MERCY FOR KEEPERS IN DERBY SHOOTOUT

A lot of the ‘you throw form out the window’ homily about derbies serves as empty hype. Thankfully, Everton and Liverpool lived up to that bombast on Saturday, their Merseyside Derby serving up six goals in what became the match of the weekend. After Daniel Sturridge’s 89th minute equalizer, both teams were left with a point after the season’s first derby at Goodison Park.

[MORE: Everton 3-3 Liverpool: Plenty of drama in the Merseyside Derby (video)]

Liverpool should feel much better then their rivals about this result. Everton forced Simon Mignolet into nine saves on the day, and if it wasn’t for the Toffees two set piece breakdowns in the first 20 minutes, that onslaught would have been enough to see the hosts take three points. But their failure to track Philippe Coutinho on a fifth minute corner cost them, as did their inability to set up an effective wall on Luis Suárez’s 19th minute free kick. All three Liverpool goals came off set pieces.

For most of the day, Everton was the better side, but their inability to cover the basics meant Liverpool were just as strong on the scoresheet, one which saw three goals from the Toffees’ Belgian stars (Kevin Miralles, Romelu Lukaku (two)) pulled back at Goodison. While Everton could comfort themselves in their overall play, but already up to six draws this season, the Toffees should be concerned that form didn’t produce three points. Sometimes moral victories aren’t victories at all.

4. ONE STEP FORWARD, ONE STEP BACK FOR MANCHESTER UNITED

source: Getty Images
Kim Bo-Kyung celebrates his 91st minute equalizer, giving Cardiff City a 2-2 draw with visiting Manchester United. (Source: Getty Images.)

Again, it’s not that Manchester United dropped points, this time at Cardiff City. It’s how it happened. Up 2-1 in stoppage time, the Red Devils gave up an equalizer to Kim Bo-Kyung, set piece defending costing them two points after a foul by Chris Smalling.

[MORE: Cardiff City 2-2 Manchester United: Kim header in stoppage time shares points]

In isolation, the point isn’t a bad one, but there are going to be other times this year when Manchester United will have to fight for the same result. On the road against a team they should beat, they’ll concede on a corner or have a penalty go against them. They’ll need to scrounge for their point. It happens.

When you’re ahead, though? When you have not one but two leads? Against an inferior team? Yes, that happens, too, but United also let Southampton steal late points at Old Trafford. They also gave up a late goal to Shakhtar in Champions League, and West Brom was able to take full points in Manchester with a 67th minute winner.

Before the break, Manchester United was being lauded for their progress, having just knocked off Arsenal. This week, they regressed, and while that ebb and flow is bound to happen with any team, it also shows are still very much a work in progress.

5. THE LINGERING FEAR CHELSEA WILL FIGURE THINGS OUT

Chelsea beat West Ham, 3-0. To a certain extent that was expected. Perhaps we didn’t know the Blues would roll out three-goal winners, but nobody was really surprised. Thanks to a Frank Lampard special (penalty kick, last goal of a rout), Chelsea is even with Liverpool on points, both clubs four points behind Arsenal.

[MORE: West Ham 0-3 Chelsea: Lampard leads Blues to dominant win (video)]

That’s a fearfully narrow gap for a league that’s let one of the league’s two most-talented sides dilly-dally for 12 rounds and stay on the fringe of the title race while playing below their potential. On Saturday, the Blues shifted back to a 4-3-3 (type of) formation and produced a romp, and while it clearly wasn’t the stiffest test in the world (breaking: West Ham aren’t good right now), it was a more decisive victory than we’re used to seeing from this transitioning team.

At some point, that transition will be over. Same thing with Manchester City. These are the two most-talented teams in England, and they’ve barely been made to pay for their uneven starts. If these teams start clicking, it will be difficult for Arsenal to keep up.

6. RED CARDS: LESS RHYME, LESS REASON

Debates over red cards can be somewhat tedious. Like penalties, they’re refuge for disgruntled fans whose tinged lenses make judgment calls into evidence of bias. In truth, they’re just one of the variables we should accept, if not outright expect. You have to know some calls just aren’t going to go your way. Your team has 90 minutes to make up for it.

Consider that a caveat, because this weekend was a particularly inconsistent one in the Premier League. Wes Brown was sent off without touching a man, and Kevin Mirallas stayed on despite a truly reckless play on Luis Suárez. As Rebecca Lowe, Robbie Earle, and Robbie Mustoe imply, it’s less about how these calls effected their games (though Gus Poyet is rightfully furious) than trying to figure out what’s going on here:

I don’t begrudge people their red card debates, but when it comes to player health, there should not room for compromise. Wins, losses, and anything else that happens within the competitive part of the game are secondary to maintaining an environment when players don’t have to seriously worry about their knees being blown out.

If you want to tell me Wes Brown’s challenge crosses that line, I’m more than willing to listen (I’ll agree with the logic, not the application). If he makes contact, that could have been bad. But in the same thought we need to recognize Kevin Mirallas should have been gone. The world where that’s a permissible challenge is not one we want to watch.

How Sevilla hope to destroy the Madrid-Barca duopoly in Spain

MADRID, SPAIN - OCTOBER 15: Samir Nasri  (2ndR) of Sevilla FC celebrates scoring their second goal with teammates during the La Liga match between CD Leganes and Sevilla FC at Estadio Municipal de Butarque on October 15, 2016 in Leganes, Spain. (Photo by Gonzalo Arroyo Moreno/Getty Images)
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MADRID (AP) Sevilla’s ambitious hopes of becoming a La Liga contender are beginning to materialize.

With an inspired team not afraid of confronting the powerhouses, Sevilla has shown it’s ready to take the next step and seriously challenge Barcelona, Real Madrid, and Atletico Madrid.

[ MORE: Monday’s transfer rumor roundup | Sunday | Friday | Thursday ]

One game before the halfway mark in the Spanish league, the squad revitalized by coach Jorge Sampaoli is only a point behind leader Madrid, a team it defeated in impressive fashion on Sunday.

The come-from-behind 2-1 win came thanks to another gritty performance by Sampaoli’s team, which has mixed high-intensity defense and a fast-paced attack to impose its style against opponents, no matter how strong they are.

“A victory in a game like this allows us to remain optimistic and believe that this team can continue this run if we maintain this same determination,” Sampaoli said. “Time will tell if we can succeed.”

Sevilla’s win halted Madrid’s 40-game unbeaten streak in all competitions. Sevilla had already come close to a victory midweek in the Copa del Rey, but it conceded two late goals in a 3-3 draw that led to its elimination. It lost the first leg the week before in Madrid 3-0.

“We had three difficult matches against Real Madrid and we were superior in two of them,” Sampaoli said. “We were able to beat a team that was unbeaten.”

[ MORE: PHOTO — Juventus unveil new logo, identity rebrand ]

Sevilla this season also defeated Atletico 1-0, drew at fifth-place Villarreal 0-0, and routed sixth-place Real Sociedad 4-0. It lost 2-1 to Barcelona in an encouraging display.

It has won six of its last seven league games, including four in a row. In front of its diehard fans at Ramon Sanchez-Pizjuan Stadium, Sevilla has won eight of its nine games.

It lost the European Super Cup title to Madrid in extra time last year, and this season advanced to the knockout stages of the Champions League, where it will face Leicester City in the Round of 16.

Sevilla has thrived in the lower-tiered Europa League, winning three straight titles, but its last Spanish league trophy was in 1946. The last time it finished second was in 1957.

It hasn’t had this much success in the league since 2007, when a squad that included Dani Alves and Frederic Kanoute fought for the title and eventually finished third behind Barcelona and champion Real Madrid. Sevilla led the competition after 18 matches that season, but with 37 points, two less than it has now.

Sevilla, the Copa del Rey winner in 2007 and 2010, also finished third in the league in 2009.

While Atletico Madrid made its way to the top thanks to the stout defense of coach Diego Simeone, Sampaoli’s Sevilla has been balancing a competitive defense with an effective offense led by players such as Samir Nasri, Victor “Vitolo” Machin, Wissam Ben Yedder, and Luciano Vietto.

[ MORE: PL Playback — One from six; who are the title favorites now? ]

It’s the first time since the winning campaign of 1956-57 that Sevilla has scored 38 goals in its first 18 league matches. Only Barcelona (47) and Madrid (46) have scored more this season.

“This team likes to play, it likes to attack,” said Stevan Jovetic, who scored the injury-time winner against Madrid on Sunday. “There is still a long way to go and we will be fighting against some top teams, but we will keep doing our thing and see where we can end up.”

Sampaoli, the Argentine coach who arrived with high expectations this season, has made a mark by successfully rotating players. Despite not having the same budget as Madrid or Barcelona, he has been able to make the most out of the squad put together by renowned sports director Ramon “Monchi” Rodriguez.

But despite the recent success and all the hype surrounding Sevilla, president Jose Castro is trying to keep the club grounded.

“We are excited, we are one point behind Madrid, and one ahead of Barcelona,” Castro said. “We will try to win it all, but the goal is to secure a spot in the Champions (League). The Spanish league is for other teams with a bigger budget.”

Sevilla’s next game is at last-place Osasuna on Sunday.

Courtois: Chelsea can still win title without Costa

LONDON, ENGLAND - NOVEMBER 26:  Thibaut Courtois of Chelsea celebrates his team's second goal during the Premier League match between Chelsea and Tottenham Hotspur at Stamford Bridge on November 26, 2016 in London, England.  (Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)
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A week from now, Diego Costa may still be a Chelsea player; he may also very well be off to the Chinese Super League by then.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s PL coverage ]

The beauty insanity of the transfer market — and a volatile figure like Costa, in particular — is that no one knows which path he’ll take. After being made to train on his own on Monday, the best anyone can tell you is, “It’s 50-50.”

There aren’t many sides in the world that could stand to lose the league’s top goal-scorer (14 goals in 19 appearances this season; Chelsea have played 21 games) and still win the league title, but Chelsea goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois believes that the current Blues squad is one that could hold onto its seven-point lead with 17 games remaining — quotes from FourFourTwo:

“Of course we have enough quality to replace Diego. Diego is important for us, but if he’s not there for one game, we know we can handle it as well.

“Was this a message to our rivals? Yes, just to see Chelsea won 3-0 and that loss at Spurs didn’t affect us and we can play without Diego if need be. I think everybody hoped for us to drop points and we didn’t so that was very good.”

[ MORE: Monday’s transfer rumor roundup | Sunday | Friday | Thursday ]

Eden Hazard has chipped in with nine goals of his own this season — his performances have been bordering on brilliance at points — while Pedro and Willian each have five league goals to their name. 19 goals from three secondary-type scorers is what champions are made of, until you consider the only other true striker currently in the squad, 23-year-old Premier League newcomer Michy Batshuayi, has 1) made just 13 PL appearances (all as a substitute); 2) scored just once, all the way back in August.

Louis van Gone: Ex-Man United, Barca boss LvG retires from coaching

LONDON, ENGLAND - MAY 21:  Louis van Gaal Manager of Manchester United celebrates after winning The Emirates FA Cup Final match between Manchester United and Crystal Palace at Wembley Stadium on May 21, 2016 in London, England. Man Utd won 2-1 after extra time.  (Photo by Paul Gilham/Getty Images)
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It wasn’t supposed to end like this for Louis Van Gaal.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s PL coverage ]

In his mind, he probably imagine himself manager Manchester United for the duration of his three-year contract before riding off into the sunset after restoring the Red Devils as Premier League champions four months from now. At the very least, he’d agree to stay on one more season to complete a bit of unfinished business after narrowly missing out on the title in his third season in charge at Old Trafford.

Instead, he was fired last May, two days after lifting the FA Cup at Wembley Stadium, and has been out of a job ever since. Van Gaal’s unemployment will now continue for the rest of his days, as the 65-year-old announced on Monday that he has retired from coaching after 26 years at Ajax, Barcelona (twice), AZ Alkmaar, Netherlands (twice), Bayern Munich and Manchester United — quote from the BBC:

“I thought maybe I would stop, then I thought it would be a sabbatical, but now I do not think I will return to coaching.”

[ MORE: Monday’s transfer rumor roundup | Sunday | Friday | Thursday ]

After the stress put upon his shoulders while at Man United, the last eight months must have felt like heaven to Van Gaal. Why on earth would anyone ever go back?

AFCON: DR Congo go top of Group C with win; Ivory Coast, Togo draw

Congo's Lomalisa Mutambala, right, with Morocco's Faycal Fajr, left, during their African Cup of Nations Group C soccer match between Congo and Morocco at the Stade de Oyem in Oyem, Gabon, Monday Jan. 16, 2017. (AP Photo/Sunday Alamba)
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A roundup of all of Monday’s action in the 2017 Africa Cup of Nations…

Ivory Coast 0-0 Togo

OYEM, Gabon (AP) Ivory Coast’s Europe-based stars stumbled in the heat of northern Gabon in their African Cup of Nations opener, with the defending champion held by Togo to 0-0 on Monday in another twist to start the tournament.

Ivory Coast’s title-winning coach fared worse as Congo beat Herve Renard’s Morocco 1-0 in the day’s second game.

Congo, a team that was on strike and refusing to train two days ago, finished with nine men on the field and on top of Group D.

Ivory Coast created few clear chances against Togo, with Wilfried Zaha‘s blocked shot in the second half after a clever run probably its best. Zaha was substituted two minutes later and, although Ivory Coast pressed hard in stages, it never broke open Togo’s well-drilled defense in the first game in Group C in the northern jungle town of Oyem.

Togo was competitive in the first half and had two good openings with around 10 minutes to go, when Kodjo Laba missed with a header from in front of goal and Mathieu Dossevi’s deflected shot dropped onto the roof of the net.

Four of the first six games at the African Cup have been draws, with Ivory Coast’s fellow title challenger, Algeria, held to 2-2 by Zimbabwe, a team that hasn’t qualified for the African Cup in over a decade. Also, host Gabon couldn’t beat outsider and tournament debutant Guinea-Bissau in the opening game.

“After Algeria-Zimbabwe and Gabon-Guinea-Bissau, we were very careful,” Ivory Coast coach Michel Dussuyer said. “But we still have two (group) matches so we are still confident.”

Togo even started better, and Dossevi was clear on goal in the 29th minute only for Ivorian goalkeeper Sylvain Gbohouo to smother the chance.

Zaha was at the heart of Ivory Coast’s two best attacks, first in the first half when he sped down the right wing and sent across a dangerous low cross that was scrambled away. Then, in the 68th minute, he tricked his marker with a clever turn, cut inside, and hit a low shot that was headed to goal before two Togo defenders managed to get in the way.

Senegal and Congo are the only teams to win at the tournament.

[ MORE: Monday’s transfer rumor roundup | Sunday | Friday | Thursday ]

DR Congo 1-0 Morocco

Junior Kabananga got the winner for Congo in the 55th minute after a mistake from Morocco `keeper Monir el-Kajoui. Congo’s Lomalisa Mutambala was sent off for a wild tackle in the 81st and played the last six minutes of normal time plus six minutes of injury time with nine men when captain Gabriel Zakuani went off injured with all their substitutes used up.

Still, victory was a major mood-changer for Congo, whose players refused to train on Friday and Saturday, claiming they hadn’t been paid tournament bonuses. They also posted a video on social media during their strike, where they complained about their treatment.

On Monday, Morocco was the one frustrated: Midfielder M’Bark Boussoufa hit the crossbar in the second minute. Goalkeeper El-Kajoui tried to block a cross with his feet and managed only to divert the ball to Kabananga to score the winning goal. Then, substitutes Youssef En Nesyri and Youssef el-Arabi missed late chances.

Although Ivory Coast and later Renard failed their first tests at the tournament, the Stade d’Oyem held up despite a desperate race to be ready in time, which saw workers scrambling around the venue finishing all sorts of jobs on the day of the game. Television viewers won’t have seen the construction debris that surrounds the outside of the stadium, which juts out of dense jungle canopy around 15 kilometers outside of Oyem.

Even organizers couldn’t do anything about the heat during the opening match, though, with Togo coach Claude le Roy’s shirt covered in dark sweat patches after urging his team on to a promising draw against the defending champion Ivorians.

“It was very hot. We were sweating so much,” Le Roy said. “We did what it takes. We are satisfied with the draw.”

Tuesday’s AFCON schedule

Ghana vs. Uganda — 11 a.m. ET
Mali vs. Egypt — 2 p.m. ET