HULL, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 28: George Boyd of Hull City (L) congratulates team-mate Ahmed Elmohamady after scoring a goal during the Barclays Premier League match between Hull City and Fulham at KC stadium on December 28, 2013 in Hull, England

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.

PL Sunday: Spurs look to regain second against Stoke

STOKE ON TRENT, ENGLAND - SEPTEMBER 10: Harry Kane of Tottenham Hotspur celebrates scoring his sides first goal with Erik Lamela of Tottenham Hotspur  during the Premier League match between Stoke City and Tottenham Hotspur at Britannia Stadium on September 10, 2016 in Stoke on Trent, England.  (Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images)
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Although there’s only one match on Sunday’s Premier League docket, the fixture bears great weight for both clubs.

[ MORE: All of PST’s PL coverage ]

Tottenham vs. Stoke City — 8:30 a.m. ET, on NBCSN and NBCSports.com

Spurs have the chance to move back into second place at White Hart Lane as Mauricio Pochettino‘s side are firmly in a battle to finish runners’ up to Chelsea this season. Tottenham currently sit 13 points out of the top spot, however, five clubs are within four points of another in the battle for second. Danny Rose and Erik Lamela remain sidelined due to injuries but Spurs will remain the favorites in the fixture after having won their previous two league meetings.

Stoke enters Sunday having gone unbeaten in five of its last six PL matches and the Potters can enter the top 10 with a victory. Mark Hughes‘ side could be given a big lift with the potential return of Xherdan Shaqiri while Saido Berahino could be in line to earn his first start since joining Stoke. Both players could present massive upside for the Potters, who have struggled to find goals as of late. In their last four matches, Stoke have managed just three finishes, one of which came from an own goal.

 

Sutton forced to use outfield player after goalkeeper left match injured

SUTTON, GREATER LONDON - FEBRUARY 20:  Reserve goalkeeper Wayne Shaw of Sutton acknowledges the crowd after The Emirates FA Cup Fifth Round match between Sutton United and Arsenal at Gander Green Lane on February 20, 2017 in Sutton, Greater London.  (Photo by Mike Hewitt/Getty Images)
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Sutton United was put in a bit of a predicament on Saturday when the club lost its starting goalkeeper due to injury.

[ MORE: Chelsea, Everton extend unbeaten runs in Saturday’s PL action ]

If only Wayne Shaw were available…

The 45-year-old resigned from his backup keeper position with the team earlier in the week after an investigation over broken betting rules came into question when Shaw ate a pie on the bench during Sutton’s FA Cup defeat against Arsenal.

Ross Worner left the pitch during the team’s 3-2 National League victory over Torquay United in the opening quarter hour.

Despite being down a goal and a man, central defender Simon Downer filled in for the injured Worner and only conceded once in the Sutton win.

Video: Schmeichel opens up about Ranieri sacking, state of Leicester

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Leicester’s downward spiral this season has certainly been one of the most intriguing storylines in the Premier League, and that story came to a head when manager Claudio Ranieri was sacked by the club.

[ MORE: Chelsea, Everton extend unbeaten runs in Saturday’s PL action ]

After leading his side to an improbable PL title during the 2015/16 season, the Foxes are now in the midst of a difficult relegation battle as the season hits its most crucial juncture.

[ MORE: Brighton extends lead in Championship, Newcastle held by Bristol ]

Still, the Foxes must turn their attention towards survival despite losing a manager that was amongst the most well liked in England and really all throughout European football.

“Claudio [Ranieri] leaving is obviously very, very sad. We achieved the impossible together and I have nothing but the upmost respect for him for everything that he achieved at this club,” said Leicester goalkeeper Kasper Schmeichel.

“Everybody knows he’s a classy guy. He came in and said his piece to the players, thanked us for our efforts and for last season and said goodbye. It’s a shame it has come to this.”

Schmeichel reiterated that he didn’t believe Ranieri was the issue and that the players are at fault for not taking care of the results on the pitch.

“You can look at our performances on the pitch,” Schmeichel said. “We haven’t been quite good enough this season. It’s quite clear. The league doesn’t lie. We’re in the position we are in because we haven’t been good enough.”

The keeper stated that he especially is taking Ranieri’s sacking to heart and that he wishes the club could have strung together some better performances in order to save his former manager’s job.

“I don’t think anyone has had more sleepless nights over our form than I have,” Schmeichel said. “Our form affects me deeply. Every person can clearly see that we haven’t performed on the pitch and we deserve the criticism that we get and that we are getting because of our performances. But anything above that is out of our hands. On the pitch, we definitely deserve the criticism that we are getting.”

In the interim, Craig Shakespeare will be tasked with replacing Ranieri and hoping to keep his club afloat next season in the PL.

While Shakespeare does have caretaker experience back in 2006 with West Bromwich Albion, the 53-year-old is in a much more difficult position this time around given the magnitude of Leicester’s fall from grace.

“Craig is someone I’ve known for a very long time,” Schmeichel said. “He’s a very bright character. he’s a very serious football man, what you’d call a real football man. he’s very enthusiastic about training. I have absolutely no doubt that he’s capable of becoming a manager whether it’s now or at some point. I think that he does have ambitions of that but he’s been a magnificent manager in his time here.”

La Liga & Serie A: Sevilla moves second, Caldara guides Atalanta

BARCELONA, SPAIN - JANUARY 29:  Stevan Jovetic (L) of Sevilla FC celebrates with his team mates after scoring his team's first goal during the La Liga match between RCD Espanyol and Sevilla FC at Cornella-El Prat stadium on January 29, 2017 in Barcelona, Spain.  (Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images)
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A roundup of Saturday’s action in Spain and Italy’s top flights…

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s La Liga coverage ]

Real Betis 1-2 Sevilla

Sevilla has moved into second in La Liga thanks to a pair of second half goals on Saturday. Riza Durmisi gave the hosts the advantage heading into the halftime break but Sevilla fought back in the second stanza with finishes from Gabriel Mercado and Vicente Iborra to pull into a tie on points with league leaders Real Madrid.

Leganes 4-0 Deportivo La Coruna

Raúl Albentosa’s red card was the least of Deportivo’s worries on the day as the 17th place side took a hammering from Leganes. The victory for the hosts moves Leganes two points clear of Deportivo in the table and five points above the drop zone. Alexander Szymanowski and Martín Mantovani helped Leganes jump out to a 2-0 lead inside of the opening half hour before late finishes from Unai Lopez and Alberto Bueno put the finishing touches on the encounter.

Elsewhere in La Liga

Alaves 2-1 Valencia
Eibar 3-0 Malaga

Sunday’s La Liga schedule

Espanyol vs. Osasuna (6 a.m. ET)
Atletico Madrid vs. Barcelona (10:15 a.m. ET)
Athletic Bilbao vs. Granada (12:30 p.m. ET)
Sporting Gijon vs. Celta Vigo (12:30 p.m. ET)
Villareal vs. Real Madrid (2:45 p.m. ET)


Napoli 0-2 Atalanta

Mattia Caldara netted a brace on Saturday and helped guide his Atalanta side to within three points of Napoli in the Serie A table. Atalanta currently sits fourth in Italy’s top flight, but the race for the second place is heating up as Roma, Napoli and Atalanta all sit within five points of one another. Meanwhile, Inter Milan will have a chance to draw level on points with Atalanta on Sunday when they take on Roma.

Juventus 2-0 Empoli

It took a bit for the league leaders to get going but Juventus remains in firm control of Serie A after another victory. An own goal from Lukasz Skorupski gave the hosts the lead after the halftime break before Alex Sandro doubled the advantage 12 minutes later after finishing off a Dani Alves cross. The Bianconeri now hold a 10-point advantage over second place Roma.

Sunday’s Serie A schedule

Palermo vs. Sampdoria (6:30 a.m. ET)
Chievo vs. Pescara (9 a.m. ET)
Crotone vs. Cagliari (9 a.m. ET)
Genoa vs. Bologna (9 a.m. ET)
Lazio vs. Udinese (9 a.m. ET)
Sassuolo vs. AC Milan (9 a.m. ET)
Inter Milan vs. Roma (2:45 p.m. ET)