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.

Spartak and Zenit fined in latest Russia fan racism cases

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MOSCOW (AP) Spartak Moscow and Zenit St. Petersburg have both been fined for racist chants by their fans, the latest such incident in World Cup host nation Russia.

Spartak’s fans were accused of aiming monkey chants at FC Tosno player Nuno Rocha, who is black, while some Zenit supporters allegedly chanted a Nazi slogan during a league game.

[ MORE: Bayern 1-2 Real Madrid ]

The clubs must each pay a 100,000-ruble ($1,600) fine, and Spartak has been hit with a partial stadium closure for its next cup game, state news agency RIA Novosti quotes Russian Football Union disciplinary committee head Artur Grigoryants as saying.

The verdict comes after FIFA charged Russia with racist abuse of France players during last month’s friendly.

Zenit has also faced two racism charges from UEFA this season.

Europa League: Arsenal, Marseille host semifinal 1st legs

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Arsenal’s Champions League dreams could be in for a rude awakening against tournament-tested Atletico Madrid.

The Premier League vs. La Liga match-up is one of two Europa League semifinal first legs set to be served up Sunday, with Marseille and Red Bull Salzburg meeting in the other.

[ MORE: Bayern 1-2 Real Madrid ]

There’s something romantic about Arsene Wenger closing out his time at Arsenal against French opposition in Lyon, but Atleti and Salzburg won’t step aside for poetics.

Both matches kickoff ay 3:05 p.m. ET

Arsenal vs. Atletico Madrid

It’s a bit stunning that this tie has no history considering both club’s statures in their leagues and Europe, but that’s what we’ll se when Arsenal welcomes Atleti for the first leg.

Arsenal boasts two of the top 10 performers in the UEL this season — it would be three had the Gunners not sold Theo Walcott — and are paced by Aaron Ramsey, who has four goals and an assist. Mesut Ozil, who’s ready to return to the pitch, has the reverse with a goal and four helpers.

The Gunners have outscored UEL opposition 29-10 this season.

It’s no surprise that Antoine Griezmann has been Atleti’s best attacker since the Madrid side dropped out of the UCL to run rampant through the UEL knockout rounds. Atleti beat Copenhagen 5-1, Lokomotiv Moscow 8-1, and Sporting Lisbon 2-1 for an aggregate score line of 15-3.

Marseille vs. Red Bull Salzburg

Don’t expect this to be a simple case of Ligue 1 bossing inferior opposition: This pair met in the group stage, with the Austrian side winning at home and drawing 0-0 in France.

Salzburg has shown its mettle in various ways during the UEL. After allowing just one goal in an unbeaten group stage, they’ve won 4-3 over Real Sociedad, 2-1 against Borussia Dortmund, and 6-5 versus Lazio. That’s no easy road, and Marseille represents another big challenge.

Marseille is bidding to make its first European final since 2004, and has been led by Dimitri Payet‘s three goals and four assists, and Lucas Ocampos’ four goals and one assist. Marseille has knocked off RB Leipzig, Athletic Bilbao, and Braga after the group stage.

Names you’ll need to know from Salzburg: defenders Stefan Lainer and Paulo Miranda have been spectacular, and Munas Dabbur and Valon Berisha have each scored five times in the tournament.

Mourinho on longtime nemesis Wenger: ‘We can be friends in future’

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Jose Mourinho and Arsene Wenger have had a poor relationship, but the former thinks he’s soon to get along with the latter.

[ MORE: Bayern 1-2 Real Madrid ]

Manchester United boss Mourinho, 55, heaped praise on the departing Arsenal manager ahead of the two sides’ Sunday meeting at Old Trafford (Watch live at 11:30 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com), saying the Frenchman has earned much respect.

Branding Wenger “iconic,” Mourinho says his fiery rivalry with Wenger stemmed from Arsenal’s stature in the Premier League when the Portuguese took over Chelsea.

“If he respects me even 50 percent of what I respect him we can even be friends in the future,” Mourinho told Sky Sports News. “I have lots of respect for him. But the reality is that he was at Arsenal, he was the champion and I came to the country in 2004 and wanted to steal his title. That’s football.”

Mourinho said he’s tried to show his respect for Wenger, 68, over the past few seasons. It may become a passable relationship, but we find it hard to believe the pair will be dining together on a regular basis as the sun sets on their managerial careers (Mou has a while to go, we think).

Real’s Modric on Bayern feeling unlucky: “That’s their problem”

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Bayern Munich produced far more chances than visiting Real Madrid in Wednesday’s UEFA Champions League semifinal first leg in Germany, but lost 2-1 at the Allianz Arena.

Franck Ribery butchered an open shot at goal, Robert Lewandowski beat Keylor Navas but didn’t score late, and Thomas Mueller missed getting contact on a shot inside the six.

[ MORE: Bayern 1-2 Real Madrid ]

It was that kind of day, and Mueller is baffled that his team did not finish more than Joshua Kimmich’s opener.

“Everybody is wondering why this game is 1-2 for Madrid,” Mueller reportedly said. “We still cannot believe it.”

The quote comes from BeIN Sport’s Tancredi Palmeri, who has a stinging rebuke from Real Madrid maestro Luka Modric.

Real wasn’t great on Wednesday, but also limited their big mistakes to one: Marcelo’s lapse of judgment which helped Kimmich to open the scoring for Bayern Munich.

The hosts had a huge giveaway from Rafinha on the match-winner, and backup backstop Sven Ulreich didn’t have a phenomenal day on either goal. Throw in Arjen Robben’s injury requiring an 8th minute substitution, and Bayern did not have much good fortune on the day.

This one, though, doesn’t seem over, even with the tie moving to the Bernabeu.