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Quick six headlines from the PL’s New Year’s Day: Man United’s woes; Solskjær overshadows Arsenal; City, Chelsea impress

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1. Spurs continue Manchester United’s up-and-down season

From our Sunday Quick Six, on David Moyes pushing United to within three points of the top four:

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 … Moyes now appears to have some things figured out.

Three days later, everything we knew is wrong, with today’s 2-1 loss to visiting Tottenham leaving United five points back of fourth place Liverpool. Perhaps more importantly, the Red Devils let a decent but highly flawed Spurs team take three points from Old Trafford, handing United their fourth home loss of the season.

[MORE: Manchester United 1-2 Tottenham Hotspur: Eriksen inspires more Old Trafford blues]

The way it happened should rekindle misgivings about Moyes’ fit in Stretford. An inherently conservative tactician, Moyes instilled an approach that saw his team control possession (61-39) without generating enough chances. Before a late match barrage gave them a 6-3 edge in shots on target, the Red Devils had given up more chances than they’d generated, allowing a 34th minute header from Emmanuel Adebayor and Christian Eriksen’s 66th minute winner to take full points for Spurs.

No doubt, Spurs deserve credit for Wednesday’s result, with Tim Sherwood bringing his team within two points of a Champions League spot. A season that looked destined to disappoint under André Villas-Boas has been revitalized by his replacement. Like Pulis with Crystal Palace, Sherwood has seen early success with a ‘back to basics’ approach, one that’s rekindled the team’s preseason hopes.

Still, the headline to take out of Wednesday’s result is the two steps forward, two steps back quagmire that is United’s season. Is this team making any progress under Moyes? On Saturday, the answer seemed yes, but in hindsight, perhaps we were buying into the final results while overlooking the less convincing details..

Today, the answer is no, part of the reason the defending champions are 11 points off the lead at the 20-game mark.

2. Arsenal break through, Solskjær steals the news

On a day where Cardiff City needed that extra idea that could steal three points at the Emirates, the man set to provide that leadership going forward made a surprise cameo in the stands, with Ole Gunnar Solskjær’s appearance alongside Bluebirds owner Vincent Tan dispelling the notion he was no longer a candidate for Malky Mackay’s old job. What the soon-to-be boss saw was a heartfelt but mostly impotent effort, with late goals by Nicklas Bendtner and Theo Walcott delivering a 2-0 win to Arsenal.

[MORE: Arsenal 2-0 Cardiff City: Dominant Gunners break through late (video)]

Everywhere but the scoresheet, it was a one-sided affair. Arsenal kept 68 percent of the ball and outshot their guests 28-8, but stalwart defending helped limit the Gunners to six shots on target. For 88 minutes, that effort looked good enough to give Cardiff an unlikely point. Ultimately, however, Arsenal left with a deserved result.

[MORE: Ole Gunnar Solskjaer seen with Vincent Tan at the Emirates Stadium, appointment imminent]

With it, Arsène Wenger’s side stay top of the league, and without Olivier Giroud, Mesut Özil and Aaron Ramsey, the result serves as a testament to Arsenal’s depth as well as their consistency. Still, the big news at the Emirates didn’t transpire on the pitch but off, with Solskjær’s surprise appearance quelling the notion Cardiff had lost out on their prime candidate for Mackay’s job.

source: Getty Images3. HIGH-FLYING CITY RESURFACES IN WALES

On Sunday we tried to hype up the job Tony Pulis did in Crystal Palace’s near-upset at the Etihad Stadium. The most remarkable part: His Eagles held a Manchester City side on pace to set a league record for goals to only one score, something no other team had done in five matches. Granted, Manuel Pellegrini had made wholesale changes to compensate for the quick Boxing Day turnaround, but against a team with the resources of Manchester City, Crystal Palace still pulled off a minor feat.

Swansea City, however, had to face Álvaro Negredo, Yaya Touré and Samir Nasri. Their only reprieves were the absences of the injured Sergio Agüero and the rested David Silva, small consolations when the Swans found themselves down 3-1 by the 66th minute. Scoring his first of two just before halftime, Wilfried Bony gave Swansea temporary hope, but an early goal by Fernandinho followed by second half scores from Touré and Aleksandar Kolarov sent the hosts to a 3-2 loss.

[MORE: Swansea 2-3 Manchester City: Goals galore keeps City rolling]

Having given up two goals, City will hear more criticism of their defense, even though the team has allowed fewer goals than Tottenham, Manchester United, or Newcastle. And after winning another game on the road, Pellegrini’s side has dispelled the notion they morph into a different team away from the Etihad.

The one thing that’s indisputable: City can score goals. With 57 through 20 rounds, the Citizens are on pace to finish the season with 108 goals, a mark that would edge their names into the Premier League record books.

4. Chelsea performance provides more perspective on Southampton

Mauricio Pochettino is a very impressive man, part of the reason why everybody thought there may be something more to Southampton’s early season success than merely a hot team, a small sample size, and a set of early results transcending their more modest underlying factors. With our David Moyes’ narratives also proving unreliable, you’d think we’d learn some lessons about drawing early conclusions. Check back this time next year to see if any of us have softened our tones.

In the interim, Chelsea’s convincing 3-0 win at St. Mary’s is another reminder of the state of affairs at Southampton, where a decent team that’s made some smart moves since rejoining the Premier League has established itself as safely mid-table side. They’re not as good as their early season top-four form implied, nor are they as bad as a three-goal loss at home to an inconsistent (if talent) team hints. Sitting ninth on the Premier League, Pochettino’s team is right where it should be: behind the European aspirants; ahead of the teams with more obvious flaws.

[MORE: Southampton 0-3 Chelsea: Blues cruise to victory after classy display]

You could say the same about Chelsea, who are only two points off the lead after their fourth win in five. At the beginning of the campaign, most saw José Mouirnho’s team as Manchester City’s one true threat, and although Arsenal is emerging as a surprise contender for this year’s crown, Chelsea is only one point off City as we enter the season’s second half.

After their three-goal win at Southampton, however, it’s worth considering if they’re ready for more, yet this may also be a place where we can learn refraining from undo conclusions. One on hand, Chelsea just posted one of their most convincing performances of the year, with a strong showing from Fernando Torres providing another hint the Blues can still salvage something from their overpriced Spaniard. On the other hand, it wasn’t so long ago Chelsea was losing at places like Basel and Stoke and reverting into Mourinho’s favorite parry-and-pop policy to get a result at the Emirates.

So maybe we should just hold off. Manchester United visits Stamford Bridge in two-and-a-half weeks. Let’s see how the Blues perform against a good team when they’ll be expected to take full points. It’s a game they should win. Let’s give them a chance to impress us.

5. Cottagers rebound, climb out of drop

Fulham were playing one of the worst teams in the Premier League. They were at home, had their best attacker (Dimitar Berbatov) back, and saw their opponents lose a man just before half time. Come May, when we look back on the Premier League season, this may be the easiest game on the Cottager schedule, and in that sense, Wednesday’s 2-1 win over West Ham United was little more than holding serve.

[MORE: Fulham 2-1 West Ham: Kevin Nolan red card allows Fulham to ease by]

But given what happened this weekend, holding serve is enough. It was progress, even. Coming off a 6-0 loss at the KC Stadium, Fulham needed to prove the Hull result didn’t portend a collapse. They needed to prove it to themselves, to their fans, and perhaps to Shahid Khan, whose team just hired Alan Curbishley as technical director. If René Meulensteen couldn’t rebound from Saturday’s debacle, a successor was already on the payroll.

Instead, Fulham have climbed of the drop, passing Crystal Palace and Cardiff City to sit 16th. While it’s still difficult to see the Whites as a team that’s going to transcend a relegation battle, Cottagers fans don’t have to see last weekend’s drubbing as more than one bad result.

source: AP6. Liverpool, Everton swap leaves Reds in top four

Jan. 28’s Merseyside Derby at Anfield may turn out to be club’s most important game of the season, and not merely because of the rivalry between Liverpool and Everton. Sitting fourth and fifth in the Premier League, the blue and red halves of Liverpool may end up fighting it out for England’s last Champions League spot, and while the four-plus months after their late January meeting will provide a series of challenges that could undermine their final derby’s result, the 28th will be the final time either side can take points off the other. Whoever’s behind after that game will be at the other’s mercy.

After Wednesday’s results, Liverpool’s back on top, vaulting over the Toffees by virtue of their 2-0 win over Hull. Though the scoreline looks superficially mundane, Reds’ manager Brendan Rodgers called it his team’s best win of the season, Daniel Agger and Luis Suárez getting on the scoresheet as the Reds held Steve Bruce’s team without a shot on target. Coming off back-to-back loses to City and Chelsea, this was exactly the type of response Rodgers needed to see.

[MORE: Liverpool 2-0 Hull City: Agger and Suarez tame the Tigers]

Everton, on the other hand, dropped points for the second time in three games, a late penalty converted by Leighton Baines at Stoke City the only thing keeping Roberto Martínez’s team from their third loss of the season. Eventually cancelling out Oussama Assaidi’s early second half opener, Everton gave an effort Martínez lauded post-match, even if the 1-1 final also left the Toffees’ boss regretting missed opportunities.

[MORE: Stoke City 1-1 Everton: Late Baines PK rescues point for Toffees]

Half-way to the finish line, Everton can start shedding their upstarts’ mystique and begin thinking about European soccer. To do so, though, they need to avoid the type of pitfalls that held them back early in the campaign – pitfalls that led to the series of draws that leave them fifth after 20 rounds. Wednesday gave doubters another reason to think Everton will come up short.

Liverpool, on the other hand, showed they’re ready for a top four push, with Jan. 28’s derby at Anfield potentially key in their quest to return to Champions League.

Manchester City confirm $22.5 million signing of Claudio Bravo

FOXBORO, MA - JUNE 10:  Claudio Bravo #1 of Chile passes the ball during a 2016 Copa America Centenario Group D match between Chile and Bolivia in the first half at Gillette Stadium on June 10, 2016 in Foxboro, Massachusetts. (Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images)
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It’s done.

Claudio Bravo, 33, has signed a four-year contract at Manchester City as the club announced his $22.5 million transfer from Barcelona on Thursday.

[ MORE: Saints close to Boufal deal ]

Bravo flew in to Manchester earlier this week and Pep Guardiola finally has the goalkeeper he’s been craving as he revealed the Chilean international is someone “he’s admired for a number of years.”

With Joe Hart given the cold shoulder and veteran Willy Caballero handed the starting spot in goal for City’s first two Premier League games of the season, it always seemed likely that a goalkeeper was lined up.

[ MORE: Solo ban about much more ]

Speaking to the club website about his move to City after spending the last two seasons at Barcelona, Bravo is looking forward to the challenge ahead.

“I’m very proud to be joining Manchester City. I know the Club is building something very special and I hope I can be part of many successes in the coming years,” Bravo said. “I have followed City’s progress in recent years and obviously know some of my new team-mates from the Copa America.

“It is not easy to leave a club like Barcelona where I had two fantastic years, but the opportunity to work with Pep Guardiola was too good to refuse. Now I will challenge the other great goalkeepers the Club has and together I hope we can win many trophies.”

So, now the picture is even clearer for Hart as despite Bravo claiming he is at the Etihad Stadium to “challenge the other great goalkeepers” they have, we all know he is the new numero uno. Hart will have to find a move elsewhere if he wants to play regularly but his options are running out with Everton’s manager Ronald Koeman saying they are no interested in signing Hart.

Over the last two seasons Bravo has split time with Marc-Andre ter Stegen at Barca but the man who has already made 100 appearances for Chile and has won back-to-back Copa America titles is now ready to be a bonafide star as he enters the prime of his career.

Comfortable with the ball at his feet and a sublime shot-stopper, Bravo’s acquisition is another key moment in Guardiola’s masterplan at City.

The Spanish coach has now spent $260 million on John Stones, Leroy Sane, Ilkay Gundogan, Nolito, Marlos Moreno, Gabriel Jesus, Oleksandr Zinchenko and Bravo this summer.

Four games into Pep’s tenure as City’s boss the Citizens are perfect with four wins as they’ve qualified for the UEFA Champions League group stages.

Drinkwater stays at champion Leicester, signs 5-year deal

LONDON, ENGLAND - MAY 15:  Danny Drinkwater of Leicester City is closed down by Bertrand Traore of Chelsea during the Barclays Premier League match between Chelsea and Leicester City at Stamford Bridge on May 15, 2016 in London, England.  (Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images)
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LEICESTER, England (AP) Danny Drinkwater has become the latest Leicester player to commit his future to the English champions.

[ MORE: Solo ban about much more ]

Leicester said Thursday the midfielder has signed a new five-year contract. Jamie Vardy and Riyad Mahrez have also penned new deals this summer.

Drinkwater, a former Manchester United player, was a regular for Leicester in its run to the Premier League title last season, helping him earn a call-up to the England squad.

Hope Solo’s ban from USWNT about much more than “coward” comments

CLEVELAND, OH - JUNE 5: Goal keeper Hope Solo #1 celebrates with Julie Johnston #8 of U.S. Women's National Team during the second half of a friendly match against Japan on June 5, 2016 at FirstEnergy Stadium in Cleveland, Ohio. (Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images)
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On Wednesday the news broke that U.S. Soccer had banned Hope Solo for six months from the USWNT and had terminated her contract as a member of the national team.

In truth, we all saw this coming.

[ MORE: Boufal to Saints close ]

The official reason given by Sunil Gulati, president of U.S. Soccer, was that Solo’s comments following the USA’s shock defeat on penalty kicks to Sweden in the quarterfinals at Rio 2016 were “unacceptable and do not meet the standard of conduct we require from our National Team players.”

Solo, 35, said that Sweden played like “a bunch of cowards” and argued that “the best team did not win.”

Were the comments out of line? Yes. Were they in the heat of the moment? Yes. Were they worthy of a six-month suspension from the USWNT? No.

Then again, this whole episode is about far more than Solo basically lambasting Sweden for being a long-ball team. This storm has been brewing for some time with multiple incidents of indiscretion leading to this inevitable outcome.

Gulati said as much.

“Taking into consideration the past incidents involving Hope, as well as the private conversations we’ve had requiring her to conduct herself in a manner befitting a U.S. National Team member, U.S. Soccer determined this is the appropriate disciplinary action,” Gulati added in the statement.

Solo is currently locked in a legal battle with a half-sister and nephew over alleged domestic violence — Solo continues to claims she is innocent — from 2014, while there was also the incident in 2015 involving Solo and her husband, Jerramy Stevens.

The latter was arrested and charged with a DUI after he and Solo took a team mini-van from the USWNT hotel in California and drove around the streets before being pulled over outside the team hotel by police with Solo reportedly dragged from the scene kicking and screaming. Solo was banned by U.S. Soccer for 30 days on Jan. 31, 2015 for that incident but was recalled by Jill Ellis for the 2015 World Cup and was a star during the USWNT’s World Cup win.

Those two unsavory incidents coupled with the huge wave of negativity from the people of Brazil at Rio 2016 — home fans booed Solo constantly and chanted “Zika” every time she kicked the ball after she posted several pictures on social media showing her preparing for the Zika virus outbreak in Brazil — were enough for U.S. Soccer to act in this manner when Solo gave them yet another reason to investigate her.

USWNT head coach Ellis flew to Seattle with Dan Flynn, U.S. Soccer’s secretary general, to deliver the news of the suspension and although Solo will still be able to play for Seattle Reign FC in the NWSL (U.S. Soccer is reportedly handing her three months severance pay on the contract they terminated which also includes her salary for NWSL play) she will miss two upcoming games for the USWNT in 2016.

Will the USWNT be weaker without Solo? Of course they will. She has been one of the greatest players in women’s soccer history and probably the greatest-ever goalkeeper. Yet, Gulati and U.S. Soccer had to make a firm stance after giving Solo chance after chance to clean up her act.

BELO HORIZONTE, BRAZIL - AUGUST 03: Hope Solo #1 of United States looks on during the Women's Group G first round match between the United States and New Zealand during the Rio 2016 Olympic Games at Mineirao Stadium on August 3, 2016 in Belo Horizonte, Brazil. (Photo by Pedro Vilela/Getty Images)
(Photo by Pedro Vilela/Getty Images)

 

It doesn’t take a master decoder to work out the subliminal message buried in Gulati’s comments in the statement released by U.S. Soccer.

In a nutshell it says: enough is enough. You were on your last chance and you blew it. It is highly likely than since January 2015 Solo has been repeatedly warned that if she steps out of line again there would be severe consequences.

Right now Solo will not be available to play for the U.S. until Feb. 2017 and even then it seems highly unlikely she will return. After a distinguished career on the pitch, Solo’s erratic behavior off it has finally caught up with her.

The lengthy ban for her outspoken rant against Sweden was undoubtedly excessive and there is a big question mark about the notion of free speech here. She spoke her mind vehemently about her distaste towards Sweden’s tactics but it wasn’t like Solo swore or used discriminatory language when speaking about Sweden. She just didn’t agree with their tactics.

Yet, that “coward” rant was likely the final straw in a long line of indiscretions which even Solo, perhaps one day, must admit have painted both herself and U.S. Soccer in a poor light over the past few years.

Enough is enough. The punishment for this specific outburst may seem harsh to many but it likely marks the end of Solo’s glittering, controversy filled, USWNT career.

Southampton agree club-record fee of $28 million for Sofiane Boufal

Sofiane Boufal
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Southampton look set to smash their transfer record as Moroccan international Sofiane Boufal is close to sealing a move to St Mary’s.

ProSoccerTalk understands that Saints have agreed a club-record fee of $28 million with Ligue 1 club Lille for Boufal and the attacker is now discussing personal terms with the side who finished sixth in the Premier League last season.

[ MORE: Solo suspended by USWNT

It is believed there is still some way to go in the deal before Boufal, 22, is unveiled at Saints — it could be early next week ahead of the summer transfer window slamming shut at 7 p.m. ET on Aug. 31. — with the player currently in the latter stages of recovering from a knee injury he suffered at the end of last season.

With Chelsea, Tottenham, Arsenal and Liverpool all linked with Boufal in the past, this signing would represent a major coup for manager Claude Puel (former manager of Lille from 2002-08) and also boost Southampton’s attacking options following the loss of Sadio Mane and Graziano Pelle over the summer.

Boufal could be the latest in a long line of shrewd European pickups from Saints who have benefited greatly over the past three seasons from giving stars of other European leagues a chance in the PL (see: Mane, Sadio.) then selling them on to the likes of Liverpool and Manchester United for huge profits.

The Paris-born attacker shone for Lille in France’s top-flight last season, scoring 11 goals and adding four assists following his move from second-tier Angers where he came through the youth system. Born and raised in France, Boufal chose to represent Morocco at international level and he has already placed twice for the Atlas Lions after making his debut in 2016.

If the deal does get over the line, as expected, then what type of player may Southampton be getting?

Boufal has skill and trickery similar to Riyad Mahrez and the directness of a Yannick Bolasie. He can play out wide or centrally and his creativity is his main trait. That is something Saints need as they’ve scored just once in their opening two games of the season and they look to be lacking a cutting edge in the final third heading into their first-ever appearance in the group stages of the UEFA Europa League.

This could well be another masterful signing from Saints’ now famed analysts in the “black box” room at their Staplewood training ground.