Why Nicolas Anelka was wrong before and continues to be wrong now

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So this is Nicolas Anelka’s defense? His lame, ongoing efforts to defend those controversial actions from last month essentially boil down to this:

He is neither anti-semitic nor racist – he just publicly honors those who might be.

Seriously? That’s what he wants to go with?

Let’s take the West Brom man at his word. Let’s assume for a moment that Anelka truly harbors no anti-Semitic views whatsoever. Let’s take Anelka’s word that his recent, highly controversial celebratory gesture really was, as he continues to suggest, an effort at a benign tribute to his friend, French comedian Dieudonné.

He really wants to “honor” this guy?

Even that is a remarkably silly and thoughtless thing to do, utterly tone deaf at the very least. I suppose we can debate whether players should face sanction for silly, thoughtless acts. Either way, Anelka is currently staring at five-game ban or more if the English FA finds him guilty of making an “abusive” gesture.

A little humble admission of having done something wrong or, at very least brainless, might go a long way here.

(MORE: Anelka defends ‘quenelle’ gesture after FA charge)

We pay tribute to fallen soldiers, to fallen figures, to victims or to the truly oppressed. Sometimes athletes’ celebrations may recognize family members or – and who could ever get upset at this one? – the birth of a child. “Right on,” most of us say to any of that.

But let’s take a quick look at Dieudonné … and then ask, “why pay tribute to such an individual?”

This New York Times story from last year says the spotlight has dimmed significantly on the once-famous French comic.

Dieudonné’s career has gone off the rails. After lashing out at Jews, playing down the importance of the Holocaust in shows and interviews, and becoming politically active in the name of what he calls anti-Zionism, he has become a pariah in France.

And there was this recent piece from Esquire, one that leaves us to wonder if something even more brainless is at work here? “It may have started out as a gesture of defiance but lately it’s turned into a game,” the Esquire article says, where provocateurs look for the most public places to make the gesture.

All of this came out before Anelka’s dim and grim goal celebration on Dec. 28. The point is, everyone paying attention in France knows what this guy Dieudonné is all about. Anelka certainly does.

Anelka and other pro athletes get lots of money; they take plenty out of society. Whether they like it or not, some degree of responsibility comes with that paycheck. They don’t have to use their position for advocacy or public service (although plenty do), but the very least we can expect is that they understand exactly what they are saying or doing with highly public gestures.

Even without warming up all those old debates over “role models,” can’t we agree at very least that there is some responsibility to act in socially responsible ways?

Really, it’s worth asking if the guy thought this thing through one little bit?

Anelka may not be directly promoting or advocating anti-semitism, but how much better is it to honor a guy with a notorious association with it?

Bobby Wood, Hamburg in danger of relegation after latest defeat

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Three matches remain in the Bundesliga season, and one U.S. Men’s National Team star might not be able to fend off relegation in his first top-flight campaign in Germany.

[ MORE: Tottenham revel in North London, but they want more ]

USMNT forward Bobby Wood and his Hamburg side fell 4-0 to Augsburg on Sunday, leaving HSV in 16th place in the German table with just several weeks left to play.

Wood has performed well with Hamburg during the 2016/17 season, scoring nine goals across all competitions, however, his side could surely use more goals in the coming weeks.

Including Sunday’s road loss, Hamburg has now lost three consecutive matches and puts Markus Gisdol’s men in a world of trouble down the stretch. Hamburg will face Mainz, Schalke and Wolfsburg over the final weeks of the season, and while those fixtures are actually pretty favorable, it still won’t be an easy test to fend off survival.

With only 18 teams playing in the top two flights of German soccer, the bottom two clubs in the Bundesliga are automatically relegated to Bundesliga.2, while the team that finishes in 16th participates in a playoff with the third-place side from the second division (currently Hanover 96).

Tottenham revel in ruling North London, but want more

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LONDON — The penultimate game at White Hart Lane produced a fitting farewell.

[ MORE: 3 things we learned

Tottenham beat Arsenal 2-0 on Sunday to not only keep their Premier League title hopes alive but also dominate North London for the first time in over two decades.

“North London is ours!” sang Tottenham’s fans as they taunted the small, disconsolate group of Arsenal fans tucked away in the far corner of the Lane. They must’ve wanted the ground to open up and swallow them. The emotions for Tottenham’s fans was entirely differently.

[ MORE: Player ratings from Spurs, Arsenal

A sense of relief and pride in the air was palpable as Spurs’ upward trajectory continues and they’ll finish above Arsenal for the first time in 22 years.

After Friday’s announcement that Spurs will be playing at Wembley next season ahead of moving into their new 61,000 capacity home for the 2018-19 campaign, the final edition of the North London derby at White Hart Lane was set.

For everyone connected to Tottenham it was a fairytale ending to the rivalry.

For manager Mauricio Pochettino and his players it was a nice way to provide a memorable moment, but their eyes are on a bigger prize.

“We are in the race for the title, we reduced the gap to Chelsea again and that is, for us, what we need to be focused on now,” Pochettino said. “We have another important game against West Ham on Friday.”

If Tottenham beat West Ham on Friday they momentarily be just one point behind Chelsea who play three days later against Middlesbrough.

Spurs have bigger fish to fry than their neighbors who appearing to be heading in a very different direction.

The ground shook at Spurs’ 118-year home as Harry Kane slammed home a penalty kick to make it 2-0, just 74 seconds after Dele Alli had made it 1-0 in the 55th minute.

Tottenham’s fans, players and manager will miss their atmospheric home but Spurs have bigger plans. They include usurping Arsenal each season but also 18 other teams in the Premier League.

“I am happy because when you play a derby like Tottenham against Arsenal, it is always important to win,” Pochettino said. “But I have a massive respect for him (Wenger). I admire him, for what he has doing in a club like Arsenal. It is a fantastic job. Of course I am so happy but are challenge and our aim is to win. Not only to beat Arsenal. It is to win against 19 other teams that play against us in the Premier League. But of course I am very happy but I am calm because we have four games left. Now it is important to focus and reduce the gap.”

Ironic chants of “Arsene Wenger, we want you to stay!” were belted out by Tottenham’s fans as they made it clear how they felt about the Arsenal boss staying on beyond this season.

Speaking after the game, Arsene Wenger was downbeat as his team would finish below Spurs for the first time in his tenure at the club.

Arsenal sit six points off the top four with five games remaining (they do have a game in hand over their rivals) as the possibility of the Gunners finishing outside the top four for the first time in 21 years is very real. That fact coupled with Spurs’ rise makes it even tougher for Arsenal to accept.

“Look, do I believe or not, the gap is there,” Wenger said. “That is often in the final part of the season, that can go one way or the other without really reflecting the difference between the teams.”

There is an incredible gap developing — 17 points to be exact — which was showcased on Sunday as Petr Cech made four fantastic saves to keep the score down. Yes, Arsenal have won PL titles, FA Cups and qualified regularly for the UEFA Champions League. But that was then. This is now.

Spurs are a club living in the moment and with a clear plan for the future. Arsenal are not.

With Spurs in the ascendancy on the pitch, their young squad improving together each month and their stunning new stadium rising higher each week, the future is bright for Tottenham.

Sunday was about soaking in nostalgia too as Pochettino waited for each and every one of his players to come off the pitch.

“We have to feel proud and happy because the last derby against Arsenal, all that it means for all our fans and everyone that loves Tottenham, it was a fantastic afternoon,” Pochettino said. “Of course we are disappointed that we didn’t reduce the gap to Chelsea but we are so proud of the team. ”

Pride is the key word in Tottenham as they’re finally top dogs in north London. Now they have bigger and better things to achieve as they leave Arsenal in their wake, the Gunners shuddering with fear and wrangled with jealousy.

Mourinho blames fatigue for Swansea collapse

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Following a 1-1 draw with Swansea City, Jose Mourinho has begged Manchester United fans to give his players their full support as they navigate a period of serious fixture congestion.

The Red Devils have gone unbeaten in a whopping 25 straight Premier League matches, but still remain outside the top four due to a plague of draws that has befallen the squad, again failing to secure a lead after a late Gylfi Sigurdsson free-kick pegged them back at Old Trafford.

“Did the supporters know it [that the players are struggling]?” Mourinho said in his post-match press conference. “Because if they know it, and they think about it, they would be more supportive of the players who give everything, deserve everything and are at their limits. The team is in trouble, the boys are in trouble. But when you give everything I cannot demand more. I’m not happy with the result. I’m very happy with the boys.”

United is suffering from a host of injuries, particularly to the defense. Chris Smalling and Phil Jones were both unavailable for the Swansea match Sunday, and both Luke Shaw and Eric Bailly both left the field injured during the 90 minutes

[ RECAP: Swansea City salvages 1-1 draw with Manchester United ]

“Luke has to be a big injury, when you’re out after 10 minutes, it has to be a big injury,” Mourinho said. “Eric, maybe he is injured but, at the same time, maybe it’s in relation to him being the guy who’s played 800 minutes of football in April.”

In addition, midfielders Paul Pogba and Marouane Fellaini were unavailable for the match, and Zlatan Ibrahimovic‘s season is over thanks to a double ACL/PCL tear.

Mourinho went on to explain his team’s schedule in further detail, and the issues behind it. “You cannot be punished because we play the League Cup final, you play the final and then you have to play a game in midweek. Why don’t you stop the competition [the Premier League] when you play the final?

“You are punished for doing well and if we beat Celta, we have the final — in this moment that is obviously hypothetical — but the Europa League final is on the Wednesday and then we play against Crystal Palace on the Sunday. We play Southampton away two days before the final. So they want us to play the final, and we would be playing in disaster consequences.”

Matt Miazga, Vitesse win Dutch League Cup

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USMNT youngster Matt Miazga started and played the full 90 minutes as Vitesse Arnhem defeated AZ Alkmaar 2-0 to win the KNVB Beker. The trophy is the club’s first in its entire 125 year history.

Former Norwich City striker Ricky Van Wolfswinkel scored the winner in the 81st minute, crashing in a header past lazy AZ defenders on a pinpoint cross by 20-year-old Kosovo international Milot Rashica. The former Premier League striker struck again in the 88th minute to put the game away.

[ MORE: 3 things we learned in the North London derby ]

Miazga has been a fixture for Vitesse this season, making 21 Eredivisie appearances this season and seeing the field in every Cup game. Vitesse conceded just four goals throughout the entire Cup run, and just one over the final four games. They shut out Feyenoord in the quarterfinals, a game which Miazga was a late substitute. Vitesse also kept clean sheets against lower league opponents in Jodan Boys in the Round of 16, and again in the finals, games that Miazga saw the entire 90 minutes.

The 21-year-old American is on loan from Chelsea, and after a slow start, has earned a significant place in the side. In the latest 10 league matches for Vitesse, Miazga has played the full 90 minutes in eight of them, with five wins and two clean sheets in that span. Vitesse sits in ninth position in the Eredivisie table, but their problems have come more so up front, as they’ve conceded just 38 goals in 34 matches, better than all but the top two teams in the table.

Another Chelsea loanee, central midfielder Lewis Baker, finished the competition as its top scorer, bagging five goals in Cup games. The 22-year-old England youth international had a brace in the 2-1 semifinal win over Sparta Rotterdam. Chelsea is known for its loan relationship with Vitesse, with four players currently loaned to the Dutch club.