Cardiff City v Manchester United - Premier League

Premier League Playback: United’s faltering midfield, ‘Crystal Pulis’ to soar, Boruc’s blunder

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MANCHESTER UNITED’S ENGINE ROOM THE ISSUE

On Sunday in South Wales, Manchester United let in a late goal to Cardiff City as they let another two points slip through their fingers. David Moyes turned away in despair and looked to the ground in disgust.

United didn’t play well, and although it looked like they’d got out of jail with a win until Kim Bo-Kyung’s last-gasp header nicked the Bluebirds a point, the main issue with the reigning champions was in central midfield.

Michael Carrick and Phil Jones, two of United’s more robust and reliable options manning the engine room, were both missing in the fiery cauldron of Wales’ capital city due to injury. And boy, did it show. Marouane Fellaini and Tom Cleverley manned the ship in the center of the park and they were overrun by forever plugging leaks sprung open by newly-promoted Cardiff. Unable to contain, tackle or cajole their team into life from the center of the pitch, Fellaini and Cleverly all too often went for the easy ball and played it safe in possession as the heat maps below show. That stunted United’s attacking impetus and allowed the Bluebirds to garner belief they could fight their way back into the game, Cardiff’s last-gasp equalizer had been coming due to midfield battle being lost.

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Click to enlarge: Marouane Fellaini’s passes vs. Cardiff City. Made no forward passes in the attacking third. (Source: Opta)
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Click to enlarge: Tom Cleverley’s passes vs. Cardiff City. Only one of his 42 passes was a successful forward pass in the opposition half. (Source: Opta)

Even Carrick and Jones have had their critics in recent seasons as United have never fully replaced their illustrious midfield generals of the past. Current players Anderson, Shinji Kagawa and going further back to Owen Hargreaves, they’ve all failed to recreate United’s indestructible machine of Keane, Scholes, Butt and the marauding menaces of Paul Ince and Bryan Robson before them.

Moyes needs to add a midfield enforcer to his squad in January, as United are too often relinquishing the middle third to teams who have hungrier, more tenacious and more committed central midfielders willing to run themselves into the ground for the crest on their shirts. I just don’t see that from any of the current crop of United’s central men, including Fellaini and Cleverley after their lackluster displays against Cardiff.

Fellaini and Cleverley aren’t bad players but they’re both afraid of failure and scared of taking people on. Between them they didn’t even attempt a dribble on Sunday and for so long United have had perfect dovetailing central midfielders, when one attacks, the other sits and vice versa. Anybody who watched Keane and Ince in their prime will tell you how beautiful that is to watch. The duo of Fellaini and Cleverley played together in the middle for the first time at Cardiff and you could tell that, they had no cohesion, no link and were all out sea.

Will they ever get the chance to shine in central midfield together again? After that combined performance, probably not. Back to the drawing board for Moyes.

Premier League Schedule – Week 12

Result Recap & Highlights
Arsenal 2-0 Southampton Recap and watch here
Cardiff 2-2 Manchester United Recap and watch here
Everton 3-3 Liverpool Recap and watch here
Fulham 1-2 Swansea Recap and watch here
Hull 0-1 Crystal Palace Recap and watch here
Man City 6-0 Tottenham Recap and watch here
Newcastle United 2-1 Norwich Recap and watch here
Stoke 2-0 Sunderland Recap and watch here
West Brom 2-2 Aston Villa Recap and watch here
West Ham 0-3 Chelsea Recap and watch here

RED CARD CONTROVERSY

Let’s break down three controversial moments from the weekend, as two red cards were dished out incorrectly and one should have been given in the Merseyside derby between Everton and Liverpool.

Some of these decisions were incredibly bad, and given the exasperating precedent set by referees chief Mike Riley last week — when he apologized to West Brom manager Steve Clarke for a last gasp penalty handed to Chelsea that cost the Baggies a win — plenty of PL managers will be hoping to receive an apology via the post.

Mr. Riley, get your quill and parchment ready, you’ll have some serious apologizing to do this weekend after three horrendous mistakes. The floodgates have opened, Riley should’ve never apologized as now he’ll never stop apologetically nodding his head in agreement and offering his hand out in reconciliation.

Too many of the big decisions are being called incorrectly as referees come under more criticism in the PL. Here’s my take on three of the worst calls (because, in truth, there were so many more) this weekend.

  • Wes Brown’s red card vs. Stoke City – NO

The phantom tackle of Brown baffles me every time I see it. It isn’t, wasn’t and will never be a red card. Gus Poyet was incensed at the decision as he tore his puffy coat off in frustration, screamed at the officials and stomped his feet in frustration. Brown slid in and made a perfect, yet slightly lunging tackle. He was in control as he disposed Stoke’s Charlie Adam and may have faintly grazed the Scotsman as he slide through. This cost Sunderland any chance of grabbing a point or more at the Britannia.

  • Yannick Bolasie’s red card vs. Hull City – NO

Yes Bolasie does go over the top and lunges into this one, but he’s on the edge of the box and scrapping for every ball as two newly-promoted teams battle for a crucial three points 12 minutes from time. Out of all three, this decisions is the most sane, but it still isn’t right. Bolasie slips before the tackle is made, Jake Livermore is already going to ground and has also raised his foot and at worst it’s a yellow card.

  • Kevin Mirallas’ potential red card vs. Liverpool – YES

This has to be one of the worst tackles I’ve seen in the modern era. Yet Belgian winger Kevin Mirallas somehow stayed on the pitch as he lunged with a high foot and aimed to decapitate Luis Suarez’ right leg at the knee. The ball was bouncing up as the two players clashed by Suarez got to the ball first, knocked it away and was clattered recklessly into by Mirallas wild and dangerous right foot with his studs showing. An instant red card was the only option here. How it wasn’t… I’ll never know. Seems like Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers agrees.

“I thought Mirallas should have been sent off. He caught him [Suarez] on the back of his knee and that can end your career. It was awful jumping in like that.” Mirallas also agreed… wait, what? Straight up, here’s the evidence.

We can’t finish this section without the highlights to the Merseyside derby, I asked if that was “the best Everton vs. Liverpool battle in history?”  Judge for yourself by watching the highlights below.

CRYSTAL PULIS – WILL THE EAGLES SOAR TO SAFETY?

Everyone expects us to get relegated and it will be nice to prove people wrong. I like climbing hills and this will be a tough job but one I will relish – New Crystal Palace manager Tony Pulis

Palace dispatched Hull City 1-0 on Saturday, watch above, as the Eagles lifted themselves off the bottom of the table as their new manager arrives amongst a sea of optimism.

Earlier on Saturday the South London side announced former Stoke City boss Tony Pulis is their new manager. I believe that’s a fantastic decision. Just three points from safety after that huge win, Pulis’ side has given themselves a fighting chance of climbing out of the relegation zone. Expect them to grab it with both hands.

This is a fact: Palace will be a horrendous side to play against for the rest of the season. Think Pulis’ Stoke City on steroids. The Eagles have something to prove, as does Pulis after his seven year spell at the Potters came to an abrupt end last season when he failed to kick them on to the next level. That burning desire to prove everyone wrong will create destruction and distress for every team they come up against in their remaining 26 PL games of the season. The Eagles aren’t ready to land in English soccer’s second-tier, in fact, they’ve yet to even take off in the top flight. You’ve been warned, Pulis’ first game in charge away at Norwich will showcase that.

ROAD WINS SEAL CHAMPIONSHIPS

If Manchester City aim to keep obliterating teams at home, watch above and shield your eyes Spurs fans, but struggle to snatch a point on the road, a second PL title in three years won’t be heading to the Etihad Stadium this season.

On Sunday City smashed Tottenham — I mean, completely knocked them out of the stadium and into the parking lot — 6-0 as they flexed their title credentials impressively. But if they keep losing on the road to basement boys and continue to augment their splendid home displays by hemorrhaging points on their travels, Pellegrini’s dream of delivering a Championship are dumbfounded.

The stats back my slightly snarky statement up as City have started this season with a poor record of W1-D1-L4 on the road. In the last 10 seasons, no PL champion has lost more than five games away from home in their title winning season… City have already lost four matches from six on the road this campaign.

What is the answer I hear you cry?

Plenty of foreign stars feeling intimidated in hostile atmospheres across a plethora of rough and ready English cities could be a reason. Another could simply be that they prefer to score early and settle their nerves in games and away from home the opposition are more likely to have a go at City and score first. The Citizens resilience is then called into question and so far they’ve failed to hit back when they’ve been dealt a blow away from home. If other sides get a foot hold at home against City, they might as well pull their goalkeeper and put the handbrake on because Pellegrini’s men look devoid of ideas when they go behind. When they’re on form Sergio Aguero and Alvaro Negredo’s burgeoning partnership can rip any team apart, we’ve spoken about that before in PL Playback after City demolished United… it seems as though the duo that initially showed promise has now blossomed into a full-blown goal scoring tandem of tricks, flicks and boat loads of goals. Aguero has 10 goals, Negredo has five and City have 34 goals in 12 games.

But this struggling form away from home has to be addressed and contrary to popular belief, it isn’t a Pellegrini-ism. It’s been going on for years. Many have put City’s struggles on the road down to their new Chilean manager being out of his comfort zone in unfamiliar surroundings at the Britannnia Stadium, Villa Park or the Stadium of Light. What a load of old tosh.

In the four seasons before the current campaign, since City became perennial title contenders, their away record reads as follows.

2012-13 – W9-D6-L4 | 2011-12 – 10-4-5 | 2010-11 – 8-4-7 | 2009-10 – 6-9-4

No team has won the Premier League title having lost four of their first 11 games since 1968… the last team to do that and win the league was… Manchester City. If they pick up their away form and continue to blow teams away at the Etihad, they won’t be far off a historic repeat.

City’s manager Pellegrini isn’t worried by those stats and said the following with a cheeky grin on his face: “I don’t believe in statistics in football. I believe football has some relation with mathematics but not always. If you win all the games from now until the end, maybe we will win the Premier League.”

BORUC, LLORIS RED FACED AS ‘KEEPERS PRESSURIZED TO PLAY

During a debate on the BBC following the weekends action, former Newcastle and England goalscoring legend Alan Shearer had this to say about the new task handed to many PL ‘keepers.

“Goalkeepers are more footballers now than at any other time,” Shearer said. “They’re part of the back four.”

I’m not trying to defend Southampton’s goalkeeper Artur Boruc for his embarrassing blunder, watch above, but his problems have come from being a ‘keeper asked to play the ball with his feet and become a part of the defense, when his main job was always to keep the ball out of the net.

In the modern era, ‘keepers have become a fifth defender and are encouraged by many managers to get involved and keep possession of the ball rather than lump it aimlessly up field every time it’s sent back to them.

On Saturday in Saints’ biggest game of the season so far, Boruc tried three ‘Cruyff turns’ in his own box and lost out to Olivier Giroud who easily tapped home and left an embarrassed and livid Boruc cursing on the floor. That goal put his Southampton side on the back foot and cost them any real chance of upsetting the league-leaders at the Emirates and helping the Saints leapfrog them into top spot. But ever-since Argentine manager Mauricio Pochettino arrived at the South Coast club, Boruc has been taking more risks with the ball at his feet and he’s encouraged to do so. If that’s what the manager wants, mistakes like this will happen. Southampton keep the ball better than almost any team in the league and that starts with Boruc’s patient, yet dangerous, build up from the back.

(MORE – FULL PREMIER LEAGUE STANDINGS)

Spurs were also the masters of their own downfall with a goalkeeping error after just 13 seconds against Man City in their humiliating defeat. Hugo Lloris’ mistake was a little different to Boruc’s as he miskicked the ball straight to City’s attackers who then capitalized brilliantly on a skewed clearance. But it was almost as if Lloris held back from giving the ball an almighty punt and was hoping his short kick would find a Spurs teammate and keep the ball in Tottenham’s possession. The Frenchman is the best ‘sweeper-keeper’ in the league and regularly launches off his line to become a defender and play the ball out of danger.

Goalkeepers in the PL should get back to doing that.

Keeping it out of their goal and giving it a bloody good whack upfield to make sure the ball is as far away from danger for as long as possible, that’s their job, right? Yet Boruc and Lloris are encouraged to play from the back by their managers, so mistakes like those they made at the weekend will happen. Ultimately they were bad individual errors but if their sides want possession from the back, ‘keepers shouldn’t be lambasted for giving the ball away or getting caught in possession. Look how often it happens to the outfield players they’re expected to emulate… Think about it.

Still at least Boruc saw the funny side of it… Check out the instagram picture he posted a few hours after the game, the caption says it all. Hilarious. Well, except if you’re a Saints fan…

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Premier League Playback comes out every Monday and takes an alternative look at the weekends action.

Watch Live: Burnley vs. Watford (Lineups, Stream)

BURNLEY, ENGLAND - APRIL 19:  Sean Dyche the manager of Burnley applauds the home fans during the Sky Bet Championship match between Burnley and Middlesbrough at Turf Moor on April 19, 2016 in Burnley, United Kingdom.  (Photo by Ian MacNicol/Getty Images)
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Burnley host Watford at Turf Moor on Monday (Watch live, 3 p.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBC Sports) in their first-ever meeting in the top-flight.

The Clarets have just one win so far this season while high-flying Watford is on the hunt for their third-straight Premier League victory.

WATCH LIVE ONLINE HERE

Sean Dyche was a former captain and then manager of Watford and the Burnley head coach has plenty of respect for the Hornets, but all of that will go out of the window as he tries to beat Walter Mazzarri‘s side on a chilly early fall evening in Lancashire.

In team news Burnley start with Sam Vokes up top on his own without the suspended Andre Gray, with Dyche packing the midfield.

Watford bring in Nordin Amrabat replaces the injured Daryl Janmaat.

LINEUPS

Burnley: Heaton; Lowton, Keane, Mee, Ward; Marney, Hendrick; Boyd, Defour, Gudmundsson; Vokes. Subs: O’Neill, Flanagan, Kightly, Tarkowski, Arfield, Bamford, Robinson

Watford: Gomes; Cathcart, Prodl, Britos; Amrabat, Capoue, Behrami, Pereyra, Holebas; Deeney, Ighalo. Subs: Pantilimon, Kaboul, Zuniga, Kenedy, Watson, Guedioura, Success

Premier League Playback: How can Chelsea improve defensively?

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CHELSEA A DEFENSIVE MESS

Following Chelsea’s humiliating 3-0 defeat at London rivals Arsenal on Saturday, Antonio Conte‘s eyes glazed over as the following words came out.

He was in a state of rage after yet another embarrassing defensive display, an area of the game the Italian coach prides himself on being a master at.

“We must work a lot. If someone thinks this season it is easy, we must work a lot to improve and to change the situation. I think that now we are a great team only on the paper. Not on the pitch,” Conte said. “To be a great team, I prefer to be a great team not only on the paper but also on the pitch because the pitch speaks. The pitch is the truth. The pitch is the most important thing for us. Not the words. Not the paper. We must change this.”

But how?

The most obvious answers is personnel and that appears to be Conte’s plan with reports already surfacing that he will phase out both Gary Cahill and Branislav Ivanovic in the coming weeks as John Terry and Kurt Zouma return from injury. To me, that means one thing: 3-5-2.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

Conte switched to the formation he mastered with Juventus and the Italian national team for the final 35 minutes of Chelsea’s drubbing at Arsenal and it seemed to work a little better, but it’s tough to tell how well it worked because the game was already over.

Something drastic needs to change in formation and personnel because the mindset of the current crop of defenders doesn’t seem to be strong enough to deal with what’s being thrown at them. Ivanovic came out after the game and said the players were not carrying out Conte’s instructions. That’s a huge problem.

Another problem is that Conte did not get the players he wanted in the summer. Reports suggested he went after center backs Giorgio Chiellini and Leonardo Bonucci but instead Chelsea signed David Luiz with many suggesting the deal wasn’t exactly what Conte wanted but Luiz’s connections with the club saw it pushed through.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule | stats ]   

Conte is now left with a messy situation in defense.

Yes, mistakes happen, but his side have given up at least two goals in each of their last four games. That’s not good enough. Conte knows it and so do Chelsea’s players but the worrying thing for Conte is that on Saturday that apart from Gary Cahill and Thibaut Courtois screaming criticism at teammates, there was a real lack of direction out on the pitch. Without Terry, that’s to be expected, but the 25-year-old won’t be around forever. Chelsea must find a solution.

“I have to solve the situation. That is the most important thing. The situation is that every game we concede two goals, at a minimum,” Conte said, furiously. “For this reason, three back or two back or four back, I don’t care. It is important to solve the situations. I must find the right solution for this team because in every game we are conceding two goals. I work a lot to find the right solution.”

Three at the back is worth a go. Using the formation and personnel below when Terry and Zouma are fit should improve Chelsea’s display but only when individuals cut out huge errors can Conte really kick on his project at Chelsea.

—– Courtois —–

—- Zouma — Terry — Luiz —

—- Azpilicueta —-  Kante —- Matic —- Hazard —- Alonso —-

—- Costa —- Batshuayi —-

To me, that team above is Chelsea’s Best XI at the moment.

Away from the defensive issues, Eden Hazard looked lost out wide against Arsenal, bring him inside to influence the game and make the most of N'Golo Kante‘s supreme ability to intercept and win tackles. Marcos Alonso and Cesar Azpilicueta as wing backs are good enough on the ball to deliver crosses, something Willian, Pedro and others haven’t done consistently this season. Then up top, it is time for Diego Costa to get a partner in crime with Michy Batshuayi starting.

Again, all of these lineup changes are irrelevant if Chelsea’s entire team doesn’t adopt pride in doing the simple things correctly on the defensive side of things. You could tell as his post-match press conference drew to a close that Conte was getting more enraged by the second. He tapped on the table. He raised his voice. He took long, reflective pauses as he sighed deeply.

Let’s put this into perspective a little: it’s not the end of Chelsea’s title bid, even if Conte wasn’t exactly brimming with confidence when asked about it. Losing at home against Liverpool and away at Arsenal is no disgrace but for a Chelsea team billed as title contenders and meant to be tough to break down after acquiring their managers penchant for defensive excellence, this has been a bad few weeks.

I asked Conte why his teams have been so sloppy from the start in games in recent weeks. Like their bad defending, he simply can’t explain it and seems genuinely stunned.

“I was a footballer and it happens in one game. It can happen,” Conte said. “You don’t have a good performance for many reasons. I hope to improve this situation because this is the second consecutive defeat after Liverpool. They are great teams, Liverpool and Arsenal. We must reflect on this because we had two defeats in two big games. For this reason we must be humble and understand the moment. To understand we need to work a lot and improve to change our story.”


SPURS, ARSENAL, LIVERPOOL CHASING PERFECT CITY

A more positive story which has dominated the early weeks in this season is Manchester City’s excellence under Pep Guardiola. Following their 3-1 win at Swansea the Spanish coach has now won all 10 of his games in charge of City across all competitions and they sit top of the table with 18 points and a 100 percent record. Pretty easy this Premier League stuff, right Pep?

In all seriousness, apart from facing Manchester United away from home, Guardiola knows the fixtures have been kind to his team. No disrespect to teams like Bournemouth, Swansea, Sunderland or West Ham, but most title-chasing teams will also beat them. The next stretch is where we will find out just how good Guardiola’s side are, especially without Kevin De Bruyne who could be missing for up to a month with a hamstring injury.

[ MORE: Latest Premier League standings ]   

City face Tottenham, Everton and Southampton in their next three games, a real step up in opposition, plus they also have a UEFA Champions League clash at Barcelona and an EFL Cup match at Manchester United to negotiate. Jostling for position just behind the clear front runners are three teams: Tottenham, Arsenal and Liverpool.

Spurs are unbeaten and edged past Middlesbrough without the injured Harry Kane. Their manager Mauricio Pochettino wants them to be more clinical but they’re digging deep and getting the job done. The two teams with the more likely staying power to challenge City appear to be Arsenal and Liverpool.

As bad as Chelsea’s defending was, Arsenal’s offensive talents dazzled on Saturday with Alexis Sanchez’s pace terrifying in a central role up top and Mesut Ozil’s close to his bamboozling best. The Gunners look to have finally rectified any issues over their shaky defense and with Sanchez and Ozil combining, Arsene Wenger is a happy man as he celebrates his 20th anniversary in charge of the Gunners this week.

For Liverpool, well, they’re flying. Jurgen Klopp‘s side has scored more goals than any other team in 2016 and they brushed aside 10-man Hull City 5-1 with minimum fuss. When Sadio Mane, Adam Lallana, Roberto Firmino and Philippe Coutinho get going, there are few clubs who can stop them. The only issue remains not only defensive lapses but also, where does Daniel Sturridge fit in? Klopp will provide an answer to that question another day but for now his side are slowly building momentum and with no European action this season, he can work longer and harder on the training ground to fine tune his already well-oiled machine.

City are already many people’s favorites to win the league but the chasing pack is already showing plenty of promise that this will not be a one-horse canter to the title. Remember, we’ve only had six games. It’s a marathon, not a sprint.


NO ROOM FOR ROONEY

Jose Mourinho finally bowed to the suggestions of all of those “football Einsteins” and it worked a treat. Mourinho left his captain and talisman Wayne Rooney on the bench along with Marouane Fellaini and the balance in Manchester United’s midfield instantly looked better.

The Red Devils breezed past Leicester City 4-1 on Saturday at Old Trafford with Paul Pogba flourishing in a more advanced midfield role alongside Juan Mata and Ander Herrera sweeping up magnificently in front of the back four. It seems like Mourinho has found a winning formula, one that doesn’t include Rooney.

It has to be said that Leicester helped them out with their woeful set piece defending on three of United’s four first half goals, but there was a renewed energy, zip and purpose about United’s play, especially in midfield. The balance between Pogba, Mata and Herrera was spot on and it allowed the former to unleash his true self as he scored his first-ever goal in a United shirt, flicked delicate balls behind Leicester’s defense and was a general nuisance. Leaving out Rooney got the best out of Pogba. We all know how this is going to end.

Closing in on being the all-time leading goalscorer for United, Rooney will still play his fair share of games but at the age of 30 it seems like he’s coming to the realization that he will have to pick and chose which games to play in to prolong not only his United career but his effectiveness when he does step on the field.

“He’s my man, I trust him completely. He’s as happy as I am at this moment. He’s a big player for me, for United, a big player for this country,” Mourinho said afterwards.

He’s a big player for United, no doubt. It’s just that Pogba is bigger, younger and, crucially, better in that advanced midfield role. There’s simply no room for Rooney to start regularly anymore in this United team.


WEST HAM’S WOES

I was at the London Stadium on Sunday and it was clear all is not well at all levels of the club.

West Ham United were hammered 3-0 by Southampton on the pitch (their captain Mark Noble admitted afterwards it could’ve been 6-0) and in the stands there were still a few issues with the Hammers’ new home as fans in both the home and away sections were ejected by heavy-handed security staff.

After five defeats from their opening six PL games, Slaven Bilic‘s side are spiraling out of control. Dimitri Payet looks lost, the defending is poor and their lack of a clinical goalscorer is hurting West Ham badly. On top of all of that the move to the Olympic Stadium has not gone well initially. After infighting among West Ham fans in previous defeats at the stadium, there was more of a somber atmosphere inside on Sunday with most of the home end empty long before the final whistle.

The situation is bad but it appears West Ham have hit rock bottom.

Cast your mind back to pretty much every new stadium opening in the PL in years gone by. There have always been teething problems, issues with fans complaining about the view being too far away and things which seemed like a big deal at the time but now seem like nothing. A perfect storm of negativity has been created at West Ham, coupled with their shock Europa League exit in the playoff round and their worst-ever start to a PL season.

Their joint-chairman David Sullivan and David Gold issued a statement on Monday saying “there have been factors which have contributed to the poor start with injuries to key players and some key decisions which have gone against us. But we are not going to make excuses.”

The Hammers can’t afford to make excuses but when they work at the kinks at their wonderful new home of just under 60,000, all of this unrest will seem a million miles away. The only issues remain on the pitch. West Ham shouldn’t get dragged into a relegation battle but they must stop the rot against Middlesbrough at home next weekend. Another abject performance and defeat in front of their own fans is not an option. No excuses.

Premier League Playback comes out every week as PST’s Lead Writer and Editor takes an alternative look at all the action from the weekend. Read the full archive, here

FIFA ending racism task force denounced as shameful betrayal

ZURICH, SWITZERLAND - FEBRUARY 25:  FIFA presidential candidate HRH Prince Ali Bin Al Hussein addresses the UEFA XI Extraordinary Congress at the Swissotel on February 25, 2016 in Zurich, Switzerland. FIFA will hold a Extraordinary Congress in Zurich tomorrow, 26th February to decide the next President of FIFA.  (Photo by Richard Heathcote/Getty Images)
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MANCHESTER, England (AP) FIFA’s abolition of its anti-racism task force was denounced as a shameful betrayal on Monday as the governing body went on the defensive to reaffirm its commitment to fighting discrimination.

The Associated Press revealed Sunday that the anti-racism group was being dismantled after FIFA decided that its mission had been completed after three years.

Kick It Out , English soccer’s anti-discrimination organization, said it was “perplexed” by FIFA’s decision, given the World Cup is being staged in 2018 in Russia “which is notorious for racism and abusive activities towards minorities.”

Jordanian federation president Prince Ali said he found it “incredibly worrying” that the task force was being scrapped given the “very real and apparent” discrimination problem that remains in soccer.

“The fight against racism is far from over and the notion that the current FIFA leadership believes that the `task force’s recommendations have been implemented’ is shameful,” said Prince Ali, a former FIFA presidential candidate and FIFA vice president. “Now the idea that FIFA believes that it’s the right time to disband its anti-racism task force is ridiculous.”

Prince Ali believes the task force should have been empowered to work further with soccer authorities and governments to use the sport to tackle discrimination in wider society.

“There is still so much work to do, and FIFA must show leadership, take responsibility for reform and be accountable if change isn’t put into practice,” Prince Ali said.

“Transparency, trust, credibility and integrity are the values that should run through everything FIFA does. Not tackling the plague of racism and discrimination properly is an absolute betrayal of those values.”

The task force was established in 2013 by then-FIFA President Sepp Blatter and headed by Jeffrey Webb, a vice president of world soccer’s governing body until he was arrested in 2015 as part of the American investigation into soccer corruption.

Webb, who pleaded guilty to racketeering charges, was replaced in September 2015 as task force chairman by Congolese federation president Constant Omari.

“The reality, as with many programs within FIFA, is that the task force was never given real support since its conception and its role was more about FIFA’s image than actually tackling the issues,” Prince Ali said.

FIFA Secretary General Fatma Samoura fended off the criticism, insisting her organization remains committed to combatting discrimination in the world’s most popular sport.

“The task force had a very specific mandate that to our knowledge it has fully fulfilled,” Samoura said at the SoccerEx convention. “Its recommendations have now been turned into a program and a strong one.”

Samoura was appointed in May as the organization’s first female and first African top administrator of world soccer’s governing body as part of the overhaul under Gianni Infantino. The Senegalese former United Nations official said her “presence here is a strong testimony that for FIFA, it is a zero tolerance policy” on discrimination and it is an inclusive organization.

Responding to criticism of the task force being shut down, Samoura said, “We can live with perceptions, but we are taking very seriously our role as the world governing body of football to fight discrimination.”

Kick It Out urged FIFA to publish a “clear and concise strategy” on its fight against discrimination and promotion of equality. It was one of three organizations in the running to win FIFA’s new diversity award from Samoura at a ceremony at SoccerEx later Monday.

Although racism is no longer rampant in English soccer, 402 incidents of discrimination were recorded by Kick It Out last season – up more than 40 percent from two years earlier, although reporting mechanisms have been enhanced.

“There is clear evidence that discrimination, prejudice and hate are on the rise in developed societies, particularly in Europe but also in different forms across the world,” Kick It Out said in a statement. “Football should seek to lead the way in combating such intrusions.

“It is clear that organizations that are actively campaigning against racism and discrimination will be deeply disheartened to hear news of the disbandment, as they look to FIFA for leadership in a game which is so popular across the world.”

The pressing problems for FIFA are in Russia with less than nine months until the country stages the Confederations Cup, the warm-up event for the 2018 World Cup.

Earlier this month, European soccer’s governing body, UEFA, ordered Russian club Rostov to close a section of a stadium for a Champions League game as punishment for the racist behavior of fans.

The most recent research from the Moscow-based SOVA Center and the UEFA-affiliated FARE Network reported a surge in the number of racist displays by Russian soccer fans, with most cases going unpunished. Researchers logged 92 incidents of discriminatory displays and chants by Russian fans in and around stadiums in the 2014-15 season, compared to a total of 83 for the previous two seasons combined.

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PSG’s defender Aurier sentenced to prison

MADRID, SPAIN - NOVEMBER 03:  Serge Aurier of Paris Saint-Germain in action during the UEFA Champions League Group A match between Real Madrid CF and Paris Saint-Germain at estadio Santiago Bernabeu on November 3, 2015 in Madrid, Spain.  (Photo by Denis Doyle/Getty Images)
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Paris Saint-Germain defender Serge Aurier has been handed a prison sentence after being found guilty of assaulting a police officer.

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Aurier, 23, was convicted of striking a police officer with his elbow in May after being asked to take a breathalyzer test outside a Paris nightclub.

The Ivory Coast defender has appealed the verdict but he has been sentenced to two months behind bars and has been fined $650 and has to pay $1687 in costs.

This is not the first time Aurier has been involved in controversy off the pitch as he was suspended by PSG last February after posting a video on social media which saw him ridicule his former manager Laurent Blanc. He later apologize for that incident but now he’s in plenty of trouble again.

Seeing as Aurier has appealed the decision from the French court, he will be able to play in PSG’s UEFA Champions League game against Ludogorets on Wednesday.

In a statement posted on the club’s website, PSG addressed Aurier’s current situation following his conviction.

“Serge Aurier appeared personally before the Paris court to answer the charges against him. The club takes note of his conviction. An appeal was made to the output of the hearing by counsel for the player. Thus according to the rules of criminal procedure, Serge Aurier is again presumed innocent pending the decision of the Court of Appeal. Pending this decision, the player is allowed to continue the exercise of his profession in France and abroad.

“Furthermore, the club wishes to stress the professional attitude of the player since his return to training on July 4. Meanwhile, Paris St Germain reaffirms its commitment to respect the forces and their missions. No further comment will be made by the club by the appeal.”