Quick six headlines from the PL weekend: Hull’s explosion, Anelka’s mistake, Man United’s climb

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1. Yes, that was hull city with six goals on saturday

Through the 48th minute of Saturday’s second half, Hull City was averaging a goal every 104 minutes this season, with only Crystal Palace, Sunderland, and Cardiff City proving worse at putting the ball in the opposition’s net. Then, with Ahmed Elmohamady’s 49th minute opener against visiting Fulham, the Tigers began a 35-minute barrage that would leave them 10th in the league in scoring, their 6-0 win over Fulham fueled by the type of explosion we rarely see from the Manchester Citys and Liverpools of the world, let alone Steve Bruce’s previously goal-starved team.

[MORE: Hull City 6-0 Fulham: Tigers run riot over defenseless Fulham (video)]

It’s the first time since 2004 Hull has struck for six in a game, though that outburst came in the third tier, when the to-be-promoted Tigers hosted Tranmere Rovers.  With less than three seasons’ experience in the top flight, Saturday’s was the highest scoring first division performance in Hull’s history, one that vaulted the Tigers into 10th in the Premier League.

For Fulham, it means they’re still in the relegation zone, sitting in 18th place. It means the  honeymoon period that saw the Cottager claim two wins in five under René Meulensteen is over, and for a team that’s allowed nine more goals than anybody else in the Premier League, it means a new, unexpected low. As bad as this season started on the Thames, nobody could have imagined this result.

2. Do we believe nicolas anelka?

The death of his agent derailed Nicolas Anelka’s first half-season at West Brom, with the former Arsenal, Manchester City, and Chelsea striker briefly leaving the team to grieve after his friend’s death in August. On Saturday, however, the French striker finally made an impact with the Baggies, scoring his first two goals for the West Midlands club as West Brom earned a 3-3 result at West Ham United.

[MORE: West Ham 3-3 West Brom: Plenty of excitement in Saturday’s first Premier League match (video)]

The headlines, however, weren’t about Anelka’s surprise contribution but how he celebrated it. Claiming to honor French comedian Dieudonne after his first goal, Anelka gave when appeared to be a reverse Nazi salute, raising his left hand to a down-pointing right arm to form a quenelle. Post-match on Twitter, Anelka denied he intended any anti-Semitism. The FA, however, has opened an investigation.

[MORE: Nicolas Anelka accused of ‘anti-Semitic’ gesture during goal celebration (video)]

In the face of criticism from government officials back home, Anelka asked people to challenge the in-the-moment interpretations of his intent.

“This quenelle was a dedication to Dieudonne,” Anelka tweeted. “[French ministers] are the ones who create controversy and confusion without knowing what the gesture really means. I ask people not to be duped by the media.”

On Saturday, images such as these were making the rounds on Twitter, showing other prominent French athletes replicating the controversial gesture:

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San Antonio Spurs Tony Parker (upper right) and Boris Diaw (lower right) are photographed with Dieudonne, as is judoka champion Teddy Riner (upper left). Liverpool’s Mamadou Sakho and Manchester City’s Samir Narsi have also been seen in similar photos making a quenelle with Dieudonne, who came up with the salute five years ago while running for elections on an anti-Zionist platform.

Given that context, it’s hard to place too much malicious intent behind Anelka’s gesture, though with Dieudonne’s right-wing political views, the West Brom striker couldn’t have been ignorant to the controversy this could cause. As former France international Marcel Desailly said on Canal+, “knowing the line exists, he should have avoided it. He knew all eyes were on him.”

Anelka decided to push forward without regard to that line. Malicious or not, The FA could have a problem.

3. loss highlights Tony Pulis’s impact at crystal palace

Crystal Palace’s three wins in five games before visiting Manchester City had already illustrated Tony Pulis’s impact, but it may have taken a stage like the Etihad Stadium’s to truly highlight what the Stoke City boss has done for the formerly bottom-dwelling club. As advertised, Pulis has brought a blunt simplicity to Palace’s approach, and as he reminded us when introduced, it’s an approach that has never seen one of his teams relegated.

After Saturday’s 1-0 loss to City, the Eagles are still within reach of the drop, but for the second straight round, they’re safe, sitting 16th after Sunday’s action. Perhaps more noteworthy, they held Manuel Pellegrini’s goal gluttons to one score, the first time since Dec. 7 the Citizens have been denied multiple goals.

[MORE: Manchester City 1-0 Crystal Palace: Dzeko’s strike downs plucky Palace, sends City top (video)]

Granted, City did control most of the match. They were without the injured Sergio Agüero while the likes of Yaya Touré, Álvaro Negredo, and Samir Nasri sat. Like everybody else managing the quick Boxing Day turnaround, Pellegrini’s team wasn’t the same as the one that put up a record goal-scoring pace through 18 rounds, though they still had Edin Dzeko. They still played David Silva, one of this year’s best players in the Premier League. And they still had the likes of Jesus Navas and the recently brilliant James Milner in the team. Saturday’s was still a dangerous City team.

Besides, Palace was handcuffed but the short rest, too, yet they still managed to get four shots on Joe Hart, forcing the City keeper into a Man of the Match performance. The had chances to get something from the league’s best team – a team that’s yet to drop a point this season at home.

[MORE: What we learned from Manchester City’s squeaker win over Crystal Palace]

Though Pulis’s formula didn’t come good in Manchester, you can still see where he’s had his impact. The way the club was playing under Ian Holloway, Palace would have gotten Fulham’d. Instead, the Eagles are now capable of staying with the best in the league – potential that pays off in points when they’re not visiting the Etihad.

4. LIVERPOOL’S TOUGH WEEK ENDS WITH LOSS AT CHELSEA

Liverpool came into the week on top of the league, but after visits to Manchester City and Chelsea, Brendan Rodgers’ team has fallen all the way to fifth – a cruel slide for a team that actually played pretty well over the last four days. But whereas most teams would content themselves with moral victories after one-goal losses at the Etihad and Stamford Bridge, the point-less week serves as a reality check for the Reds. For all the obvious progress they’ve made on the field, title contention may be a too much in the second year of the Rodgers era.

At least, we’re bound to hear that conclusion with Liverpool sitting six back after Sunday’s 2-1 loss, but there’s another way to look at it. Almost every team is going to lose at Manchester City this year (the Citizens are 10-0-0 at home). A one-goal loss at Stamford Bridge is another reality teams are going to have to face, just as the Citizens did earlier this season. Has anything happened to Liverpool this week that won’t also happened to other teams? Other title contenders? And if not, is there any reason to be down on the Reds?

[MORE: Chelsea 2-1 Liverpool: Blues earn important win with first-half comeback]

[REVIEW: Manchester City 2-1 Liverpool; Reds fail to finish as City climbs second (video)]

That’s the way I choose to look at it. Even though they sit fifth, I still see Liverpool as potential contender for the title. Though Luis Suárez’s lack of goals this week highlights better defenses’ ability to stop him (and Liverpool’s lack of an alternative), the Reds are still capable to ripping through other teams. Their approach leaves them less likely to settle for one point in a game they should get three.

It was a tough week for Liverpool but not necessarily a bad one. Though we’re not used to seeing this year’s team as low as fifth, their play on the field tells us they’re capable of more. An uncharacteristically close top five-or-six mean they may not sit higher come season’s end, yet this week showed Liverpool is capable of climbing higher, potentially pulling themselves back into the title race.

5. Welbeck, Manchester United continue their rise

The last time we speculated Manchester United’s transition phase was over, the team hit another patch that put David Moyes’ job status back in the headlines. Now, however, after Saturday’s 1-0 win at Norwich, Manchester United are only three points out of the top four. They won their Champions League group and have taken four-in-a-row in league, and while another manager many not have needed this huge regroup before climbing the table, Moyes now appears to have some things figured out.

[MORE: Norwich City 0-1 Manchester United: Welbeck hands United yet another win (video)]

One of those things may be Danny Welbeck, whose 57th minute goal at Carrow Road had Moyes singing the England international’s praises post-match. Coming on a halftime to replace Ryan Giggs, Welbeck provided the scoring punch the sidelined Robin van Persie and Wayne Rooney could not. In that way, he may have been the only person who capable of taking all three points for United, but with his fourth goal in five games, he did. Welbeck is now up to seven all-competition goals for the season.

It would be too much to call Moyes’ team impressive, but just like this climb toward the top four, perhaps that’s to come. This month Moyes figured out how to use Welbeck. Previously, he rediscovered Wayne Rooney’s elite form. Maybe in January, Shinji Kagawa will shine, and by February, Moyes will have acquainted himself with all of United’s talents.

With the five teams ahead of them capable of picking points off each other, maybe there’s still a title run in this squad, provided we haven’t again misread the state of Moyes’ transition.

6. THE VINCENT TAN SOAP OPERA CONTINUES 

Alternate title: Malky Mackay finally got what he wanted

Do I know Malky Mackay wanted to get fired? No, but I can only judge a man on his actions, and if the former Cardiff City manager really wanted to keep his job, this is the most oblivious case of self-sabotage in Premier League history. If, however, he was trying to get Bluebirds’ owner Vincent Tan to fire him, he wrote the book on how to get paid to walk away. With his firing on Friday, Mackay finally got paid to walk away from a position he’d clearly come to despise.

[MORE: Malky Mackay has been sacked by Cardiff City]

At least, that’s what he’s hoping for. Some reports claim Tan intends to withhold the money Mackay’s owed on his contract, though those reports seem speculative. In waiting in the hope that Mackay would walk away, Tan appeared to acknowledge the costs of firing his under contract boss. On Friday, has accepted those costs, deciding it was better to let Mackay go than continuing the hope he would walk away.

Not that he didn’t have reason to walk away. Tan had fired his head of recruitment, has been reported to have given the manager tactical directions, and told Mackay to resign or be fired. Mackay chose the latter, effectively calling his boss’s bluff.

As we discussed last week, this was a relationship that had to end, particularly with Mackay having exasperated the problems. He’d come to air his complaints through the media, be it about wanting new recruits in January or speaking out against his owner’s behaviors. Many suspect last Monday’s leak of the ‘resign or be fired’ email was done by Mackay and his representatives.

At some point, if you don’t like the people who sign your paychecks, you should walk away. Instead, thanks to his astute use of the media, Mackay will be paid to do so.

The subtext of all this is a very English one. It’s the only place in the world where a manager is seen to be above his chairman’s predilections, fan and media sentiment giving every Malky Mackay the right to act like Brian Clough. There’s no indication that Mackay was ever as belligerent as the famed Nottingham Forest boss, but he also wasn’t nearly as successful. As Tan pointed out, Mackay and Moody got a lot of money to make Cardiff better over the summer, and the results have yet to come.

The simple truth for all of us unfortunate enough to have to work for others: We often have to deal with circumstances we don’t enjoy. Either that, or we have to walk away from our jobs without a penny. We don’t have jobs that allow us to undermine our bosses, let alone get supportive press coverage when we do. Most of the Malky Mackays of the world need their paychecks.

Though many want to depict Mackay was the one hard done by Tan’s antics, he exits more fortunate than most. He gets his money, and thanks to his astute use of the media, his next employer is unlikely to look harshly on his experience at Cardiff. Whoever succeeds him, however, is likely to find the work environment better than Mackay, a man who contributed to his own departure in Wales.

Arena reacts to USMNT draw, expects CONCACAF fight to end

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Bruce Arena didn’t enjoy watching Tuesday’s 1-1 draw between the United States and Panama, but he’s not upset with the result.

“The referee didn’t blow his whistle too much, and that’s the way the game looked for 90 minutes,” Arena said.

[ MORE: Player ratings | 3 things ]

Arena’s Yanks struggled to find their flow in the draw, ravaged by injuries to their back line. Arena praised his back four for their performance in difficult circumstances on the road with new teammates.

And he’s feeling a lot better than a week ago, when the U.S. had zero points and sat last in the table.

[ WATCH: Full match replay (Spanish) ]

“We’re obviously in better shape with four points in two games. We’ve made progress. Every game in qualifying is going to be critical for every team. Everyone’s in it. It’s going to be a battle for the second, third, and fourth spots.”

The Americans’ next World Cup qualifier is June 8 against Trinidad and Tobago before a June 11 road trip to Azteca to face Mexico.

Panama 1-1 USMNT: Ugly, scrappy point for both sides

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The United States will finish the international break in the Hex’s fourth place after a 1-1 draw at Panama in World Cup qualifying on Tuesday.

Clint Dempsey scored off a feed from Christian Pulisic to give the U.S. a brief 1-0 lead, and Gabriel Gomez leveled the score before halftime.

The Americans’ next World Cup qualifier is June 8 against Trinidad and Tobago before a June 11 road trip to Azteca to face Mexico.

[ MORE: Player ratings | 3 things ]

Here’s the Hex table as it stands, with the U.S. on pace for a playoff spot against Asia’s playoff winner:

Mexico — 10 points
Costa Rica — 7 points
Panama — 5 points
———————
USMNT — 4 points
———————-
Honduras — 4 points
Trinidad and Tobago — 3 points

[ WATCH: Full match replay (Spanish) ]

The first 10 minutes were a bit frenetic, with the U.S. focused on adventurous first touch passes when it managed to earn the ball from Panama.

That feel wasn’t aided by the officiating, as Cesar Ramos was inconsistent in a very physical opening quarter-hour (and never pulled a single card).

Felipe Baloy flashed a header over the cross bar off a 16th minute corner kick as he lost Jozy Altidore and nodded back across goal. It was a bit of set piece foreshadowing, as Arena has yet to fix a long-held USMNT problem.

Christian Pulisic was fired up when Luis Tejada shoved him to the turf in the 20th minute.

Tim Ream bailed out Jorge Villafana, who wasn’t as composed and smart as his Friday versus Panama, sliding to divert Armando Cooper’s cross for a corner kick.

Jermaine Jones cued up Pulisic moments later, but the youngster had to wait for a bounding ball to settle before Panama conceded a corner. That opportunity was wasted by an overly aggressive Gonzalez, who was called for a foul before the ball arrived in the 18.

Howard saw his first danger and averted it when Alberto Quintero shook Zusi to rip a shot on frame. It was 0-0 after 32 minutes.

Then, the breakthrough. Dempsey moved to within a goal of Landon donovan’s all-time mark thanks to Pulisic, who cooked Felipe Baloy and held off Roman Torres before laying off to the veteran. 1-0, 39′.

The lead lasted all of three minutes, as Gomez pounced on a loose ball with the Yanks’ back line at sixes and sevens off a long throw-in. Gomez turned off Jermaine Jones and lost Villafana to bury his chance behind Howard. 1-1, 44′.

The second half began with more chunky play until Villafana blazed down the left wing on an overlapping run to cross for Pulisic, whose shot was forced out for a corner which led to nothing.

Dempsey then turned a Michael Bradley free kick to a waiting Jaime Penedo as the Yanks started to refind their flow.

Panama found a doorstep chance when Torres nodded down for Tejada, but Howard made an exceptional nether regions “leg” save to keep it 1-1.

Arena introduced Alejandro Bedoya for Darlington Nagbe with 20 minutes to play, a move that was a testament to the physical nature of the game.

Fittingly, it was creative work from Pulisic that helped the U.S. win a corner kick soon after, though Penedo claimed the offering.

More chances came Panama’s way, as the U.S. spent much of the late stages desperately clearing loose balls. On another night, with better finishing from Tejada, the Yanks would’ve been sunk.

Three takeaways from the USMNT’s 1-1 draw at Panama

AP Photo/Arnulfo Franco
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What did we learn from the United States’ 1-1 draw in Panama City on Wednesday?

For one thing, that the coach isn’t going to matter without a number of your very best players.

[ MORE: Match recap | Player ratings ]

The USMNT saw precious few moments of brilliance from its injury-ravaged side, saved by its soon-to-be all-time leading scorer, its 18-year-old star attacker, and its legendary goalkeeper.

But mainly, we saw that you can change the boss, but you need better performances to make a difference.

Limits of depth tested in ugly affair

Bruce Arena was without his best center back pairing thanks to injury, and you could argue he was without his best back four if you see Fabian Johnson as a left back (John Brooks, Geoff Cameron, DeAndre Yedlin, and Johnson).

The U.S. also couldn’t pair Bobby Wood with Jozy Altidore or Clint Dempsey, and lost Sebastian Lletget to injury on Friday. Timmy Chandler has rarely thrived with the USMNT, but it certainly would’ve been nice if Arena had called him up for the second match alone (He was suspended Friday for yellow card accumulation).

Given the above, this was not a pretty match. You just have to hope this isn’t the result that keeps them from Russia.

Mexico, revisited (What game plan?)

This might be an unpopular take, but Tuesday’s loss was nothing more than the performance put forth against Mexico in Columbus.

The main differences? Tim Howard was there to make a tremendous save, and Panama is nowhere near to the level of El Tri.

[ WATCH: Full match replay (Spanish) ]

The Yanks didn’t have a great plan other than to outwork Panama. This isn’t a big knock on the coach’s tactics given the lack of starting caliber players noted above, but once Panama flooded the middle of the pitch with fouls and tight tackles, an answer wasn’t provided by the players or the coach.

Plan B hasn’t been a U.S. strong suit for a long time, perhaps back to the finer moments of the Bob Bradley era. Arena got away with one on Tuesday.

Rough road ahead

This is something we know, but my was it reinforced: Winning CONCACAF World Cup qualifiers at home is a necessity, because there’s carnage and bad pitches on the road.

Perhaps that could’ve changed if referee Cesar Ramos brought a yellow card out for either team at any point in the proceedings. Christian Pulisic and Darlington Nagbe were fouled as part of Panama’s game plan, and the Yanks’ beleaguered defense went with a similar plan as the sloppy match wore into the waning moments.

The U.S. is still in control of its own World Cup destiny, of course, but simply must handle its business in remaining home matches against Trinidad and Tobago, Panama, and Costa Rica. T&T is next, and anything other than three points sends them into Azteca in a bad, bad way.

Player ratings from the USMNT’s 1-1 draw in Panama

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Player ratings reverted to old form after Tuesday’s 1-1 draw in Panama City, though fortunately one of the other U.S. tropes is dead.

That’s because “Christian Pulisic is the future” can officially be moved into “Christian Pulisic is the present”.

[ MORE: Match recap | 3 things ]

The Borussia Dortmund teenager again manufactured the United States’ best moment, feeding Clint Dempsey for the Yanks’ lone goal.

Starting XI

Tim Howard  — 7 — Don’t know what he’s supposed to do on the goal, but his jewels save to deny Luis Tejada could be a World Cup saver.

Jorge Villafana  — 4 — One of the many star men from the win over Honduras was too adventurous and less composed. Bad combo.

Omar Gonzalez  — 4 — I say this in a way that ignores Timmy Chandler’s fine work in the Bundesliga: Is Gonzalez going to be Bruce Arena’s Chandler? Hopefully this is the last time he has to start.

Tim Ream — 5 — Had a bad time on the goal, and made several bad plays. But it’s hard to get a read on the Fulham’s man night because he bailed out Gonzalez and Villafana on a number of occasions.

Graham Zusi  — 5 — Gets bumped up a point for handling a very difficult situation, still adapting to right back in a match where Panama’s tactics were to attack his side. A better second half than the first.

Michael Bradley  — 6 — Nothing exceptional from the captain, but still an upgrade from his form under Jurgen Klinsmann. A little too deep in the formation on the evening, but that could’ve been the plan?

Jermaine Jones  (Off 75′) — 5 — Ornery as usual, his only successes came in standing up for his oft-fouled midfield mates.

Darlington Nagbe  (Off 68′) — 6  — This game looked set up for him to pick the ball up from Michael Bradley and dance into the midfield, but he only got a few chances as Panama’s tactics were aimed at fouling the Yanks’ two best dribblers in him and Pulisic.

Christian Pulisic  — 9 — A simply incredible bit of work to work two veteran defenders and assist Dempsey’s goal. Failing an unforeseen dip in company, Pulisic is going to be one of the most important players in American men’s history.

Clint Dempsey  — 6 — Scored the goal that earned the point, but otherwise fought to be a part of the match. That’s the sign of a legend, though, still finding a way to make himself matter on a poor evening.

Jozy Altidore  — 5 — Might’ve had a dozen touches in the game. Part of this was down to the U.S. aiming balls at his head and not his feet, but not his day.

Subs

Alejandro Bedoya (On 68′)  — 6 — Dogged work rate from the Union man.

Kellyn Acosta (On 75′) — 6 — Some creativity on display in limited time

Paul Arriola (On 83′) — N/A —