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.

Mascherano still believes Neymar is “the future” of Barcelona

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The Neymar-to-PSG saga has escalated quickly, and signs of the Brazilian’s move to Paris are growing, but one Barcelona player remains confident that his compatriot will stay in Spain ahead of the new La Liga season.

[ MORE: Morata signs five-year contract with Chelsea ]

PSG has shown a willingness over recent days to meet Barca’s worldly $260 million transfer fee for the 25-year-old, while Neymar has reportedly alerted his teammates that he will in fact be heading to the Parc des Princes next month.

Veteran Barcelona midfielder/defender Javier Mascherano is one of the Blaugrana players that hopes Neymar will stick around and help anchor the La Liga giants for years to come despite a possible massive payday in store.

“Obviously he is young and I hope he’s here with Barcelona for many more years,” the Argentina defender said to ESPN.

“He is a really important player for the club. Because of his age, he’s the future of the club and we hope we can keep on counting on him.

“He’s accustomed to the pressure and people talking. There’s always going to be rumours and news around him.

“It’s really difficult to give advice. Firstly, I’m not anyone to be giving advice and secondly, I see him really happy here, really happy. [Barca] are a club that have made it possible for him to perform at his best. But after that, each person has to make their own decisions.”

If Neymar does bolt for Paris the complexion of the MSN-Barca attack changes drastically despite still boasting elite talents Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez.

[ MORE: Man United drops Man City in Houston “Manchester Derby” ]

Barca has done little in the transfer market this summer, only adding Everton winger Gerard Deulofeu and Nelson Semedo of Benfica. The club continues to pursue Liverpool attacker Philippe Coutinho, however, the Reds recently rejected a bid of $93 million.

‘Nothing is impossible’: Bonucci brings hope to AC Milan

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MILAN (AP) Nothing is impossible. That’s AC Milan’s new unofficial slogan following Leonardo Bonucci’s surprise transfer from defending six-time Serie A champion Juventus.

[ MORE: Neymar reportedly tells Barca teammates he’s off to PSG ]

Presenting fans to Bonucci via Weibo on Friday, Milan CEO Marco Fassone recounted how Italy’s top defender moved to a rival club.

“It started by chance and it seemed impossible but Leo interrupted me right away and said, `Nothing is impossible. When there’s desire to do things you can get them done.”‘

Milan has been on a spending spree following the club’s sale to a Chinese-led consortium for $800 million in April, and Bonucci is the top acquisition, so far.

“Leo doesn’t require introductions,” Fassone said. “It’s an extraordinary reinforcement for us. … He completes a mosaic sought after by (Milan chief sport officer Massimiliano) Mirabelli – a mix of younger players and experienced leaders who will make the road ahead easier.”

Other recent signings by Milan included forward Andre Silva from FC Porto; midfielders Ricardo Rodriguez (Wolfsburg), Franck Kessie and Andrea Conti (Atalanta), Hakan Calhanoglu (Bayer Leverkusen) and Lucas Biglia (Lazio); and defender Mateo Musacchio (Villarreal).

Bonucci thanked Kessie for letting him wear his preferred No. 19 shirt, and pointed to Milan’s seven European Cups and Champions League titles as a reference point for a club that did not even qualify for continental play the last three years and hasn’t won Serie A since 2011.

“Milan deserves to be among the elite again in Italy and Europe,” Bonucci said. “When you are united you win. The strength has to be that of the squad whereas singular players alone can do nothing. We can get back to the top and that’s what this club deserves.”

Bonucci’s transfer fee reportedly topped the 40 million euro ($45 million) mark, and the center back was signed to a five-year contract worth up to 10 million euros ($11 million) per season, including bonuses – making him the highest-paid player in Italy.

Meanwhile, Juventus is reportedly near to signing prized winger Federico Bernardeschi from Fiorentina for a reported fee of 40 million euros ($45 million). The Gazzetta dello Sport reported Juventus will sign the 23-year-old Bernardeschi to five-year contract worth 4 million euros ($4.6 million) per season.

Vertonghen: “We need to level up” like rest of PL contenders

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Tottenham put up a heck of a title fight in 2016/17 as the club attempted to chase down Premier League champions Chelsea, but Spurs have been inactive this summer as Mauricio Pochettino‘s group gears up for next month.

[ MORE: Striker Morata signs five-year contract with Chelsea ]

The London side finished second in the PL a season ago — a record-high for the club during the modern Premier League Era.

[ VIDEO: History of the North London Derby ]

However, Pochettino and Co. have made no moves in the transfer market this summer, while its competitors — Chelsea, Manchester United, etc. — have all made significant roster additions to bolster their lineups.

Defender Jan Vertonghen says that Spurs must compete with the rest of the PL’s elite in the transfer market if the club is to finally realize its goal of finishing atop England’s top flight.

“The way our rivals are strengthening this season, we need to be aware of that and we need to level up as well,” Vertonghen told ESPN FC.

“I’m not saying with new players, but we need to take our levels up and I think we can. I’m the oldest outfield player in the team and I feel very fit. The younger guys can improve even more. It can definitely be our year and we want it to be our year.

“Luckily we almost kept everyone from this year. Obviously the window is not closed yet but if we can keep these guys, we can do the same thing again. It’ll be a bit harder because we play at Wembley! [The pitch] is a lot bigger but the training pitches have already been adapted.

While Spurs certainly benefit from having one of the strongest young groups of players in England, the club’s lack of spending is a bit concerning, especially after its recent loss of Kyle Walker — who joined Manchester City for a record fee.

Zouma signs new Chelsea contract, is immediately loaned to Stoke City

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Kurt Zouma‘s long-term future is secure at Chelsea, but his short-term future will be away from Stamford Bridge.

The France international centerback signed a new six-year contract with Chelsea and was promptly sent out on a season-long loan to Stoke City. Zouma made just three starts and nine total appearances last season as he came back from a torn ACL suffered in February 2016.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s PL coverage ]

“It is fantastic Kurt has chosen to commit his future to Chelsea,” Chelsea technical director Michael Emenalo said in a statement. “He has shown his talent since joining us three years ago, and has returned from a serious injury with a fantastic attitude.

“Now he has the opportunity to play regularly in the Premier League and we will be monitoring his progress closely while he is at Stoke.”

The move to Stoke will give Zouma a new experience, playing for a mid-table side in the Premier League, and it will be interesting to see where he fits in at centerback, battling with American Geoff Cameron and Englishman Ryan Shawcross.

Even with John Terry leaving the club, Zouma was likely to be second-choice in the back three for Chelsea and if he wants to make France’s squad for the 2018 World Cup, he’ll have to play regularly.