Quick Six: Red Devils regress, Sunderland routs rivals, and the other headlines from the Premier League’s 24th round

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1. No “BIG THREE” Solution For Manchester United

When former Manchester United manager Alex Ferguson claimed Charlie Adam’s corner kicks were worth £10 million, he was doing more than driving up the price of the then-Blackpool midfielder. Weighing in on the Liverpool target, Ferguson was also implicitly commenting on the limits of the Scottish international’s game. After all, how much time do we spend talking about Andrea Pirlo’s set piece delivery given everything else he can do. Pirlo, Adams is not.

On Saturday, however, Manchester United’s much-criticized midfield made the 28-year-old Stoke City distributor look like a world-class talent. With scores in the 38th and 52nd minutes, Adam’s brace book gave the Potters a historic win over Manchester United. It was the first time Stoke had beaten the Red Devils since joining the Premier League in 2008.

With all due respect to the Potters (who were fully worth their three points on Saturday), the big story here continues to be David Moyes, who showed no sign of adaptability by tossing Juan Mata wide right in a 4-4-2. For a team that has suffered because of a lack of final third creativity, it was a terrible choice, one that sets up the club’s record transfer buy as a potential waste of money. Rather than adapt to the new talent he’s bought, the first-year boss is forcing that talent into an underachieving approach.

We talked about that potential problem on Tuesday. Now, having seen how Moyes plans to use Mata when Van Persie and Wayne Rooney are available, United fans have another cause of concern. If their club ever acquires the talent to address the holes Ferguson left behind, do they have the right manager to make it work? Everything we’ve seen in 2013-14 says “No.”

2. Derby dominance fuels Sunderland’s continued climb

Given how Sunderland has been playing, 14th place actually understates their quality. Remember all that early season talk about whether they were too far gone? Now nobody thinks the Black Cats will end up in the Championship., the club having climbed out of the hole Gus Poyet inherited from Paolo Di Canio.

Instead, the story coming out of Saturday’s Tyne-Wear Derby is the Cats’ continued dominance for their northeast rival. With goals from Fabio Borini, Adam Johnson, and Jack Colback, Sunderland recorded their third straight win over the Magpies, a streak that’s transcended last season’s relegation worries, this season’s traumatic start, and generally sitting lower than Newcastle in the Premier League table since the Magpies’ promotion. After Saturday’s romp, Sunderland’s unbeaten in five against the fiercest rivals.

That was the perspective after Saturday’s win – one of dominance. The larger context casts Saturday’s win as the high point in the league’s most remarkable turnaround. This team wasn’t merely off to a poor start. They bad; like, people talking about how few points they’ll get bad.

Now? They’re one of the bottom half’s safest bets for survival. Credit of Johnson. Credit to Borini. But most of all, credit to Gus Poyet. His first Premier League job is turning into a dramatic success, at least early on.

3. Oxlade-Chamberlain’s two delivers three for Arsenal

Can we discuss this like mature adults  – people who know Manchester City plays tomorrow? That’s the deal. If not, we can’t talk about Arsenal moving into first after Sunday’s win over Crystal Palace. Call it a pet peeve, but if we’re going to treat them like the Premier League’s top team before the round’s over, I’m going to eject now.

Nobody’s going to do that? (Looks around the internet.) Well, I’ll be. This is amazing. Is the discourse finally evolving? Have we really stopped overreacting to “first place” on Saturday when the team’s likely to slide by Monday?

Probably not. With so much anticipation of tomorrow’s top-of-the-table tussle, people are speeding through Sunday’s two results to start the hype of Monday’s battle. It’s a special occasion. Thanks to tomorrow’s big game, we’re being spared all the unreasonable “woo hoo” that normally accompanies a team going top.

Arsenal does deserve a few woo hoos, though. We’ve seen how much trouble teams have had breaking down Tony Pulis’s Crystal Palace. We saw it in the first half on Sunday. Yet in the second, thanks in large part to the long-awaited return on Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, the Gunners were able to make it reasonably comfortable for themselves. Outshooting the Eagles 6-2 (shots on target) while controlling 73 percent of the ball, Arsenal went on to a 2-0 victory.

They may not end the round in first, but consider what Arsenal’s already accomplished. Nobody’s talking about whether they can stick around. The debate as to whether they’re real title contenders faded long ago. With solid (if unspectacular) performances like these, Arsène Wenger’s team has silenced the doubters, and while that doesn’t mean a consensus of experts sees the Gunners claiming the title, it does mean lingering concerns about Arsenal’s quality aren’t lingering any more.

4. Liverpool, Tottenham slips see Everton reclaim lost ground

Aston Villa left Everton empty handed, yet both teams had reason to be content after Saturday’s match at Goodison Park. The Villans continued a good run of form that began a week ago at Anfield, and while they’ve only claimed four points over the span, that haul has kept Paul Lambert’s team five points above the drop. The club seems to have stabilized in 10th place, heights it hasn’t enjoyed since the departure of Martin O’Neill.

For Everton, responding with two late goals showed the type of resilience they’ll need to stay in the race for fourth. Coming off a demoralizing loss to Liverpool, the Toffees needed to get back into the win column, particularly given the opposition – a mid-table team visiting Goodison Park. That they were able to do so without the injured Romelu Lukaku gives them hope they’ll be able to survive the big Belgian’s absence.

It was part of a near-perfect round for the Toffees, who saw the effects of their mid-week loss nearly wiped off the books by Liverpool and Tottenham’s results. Thanks to Kolo Touré, Liverpool gifted West Brom a second half equalizer in the Reds’ 1-1 draw at the Hawthorns. On Saturday, Tottenham were unable to claim full points from Hull, also held to a 1-1 result in their visit to the KC Stadium.

On the week, Everton only lost on one to Liverpool – not a terrible result considering they had to go to Anfield. They also jumped a spot in the standings thanks to Tottenham’s one-point week.

The Merseyside Derby make have been an embarrassing setback, but five days later, that effects of that setback have almost dried up.

5. Shake up no solution for Fulham

Fulham made four changes for yesterday’s match against Southampton. They were still terrible. Though they kept up with the Saints for most of the match, they lost 3-0 at home. Clint Dempsey, Pajtim Kasami, and Alexander Kacaniklic may have been dropped from the starting XI, but they didn’t take Fulham’s terrible defense with them.

And that’s the problem. Fulham may have undergone a complete makeover last week, welcoming Lewis Holtby, William Kvist, and Kostas Mitroglou (who didn’t play this weekend), but they’ve done little to address a defense that’s allowed 15 goals in its last six games. Even with all their changes, René Meulensteen somehow justified starting Scott Parker and Steve Sidwell in the middle – a relegation-worthy midfield that can’t grit and gut their way out of the bottom three (West Ham found this out with Parker three years ago).

Whether Parker and Sidwell keep playing or not, something bigger has to change at Fulham. The team’s in a free fall that’s landed them at the bottom of the table, and although they’ve already let one manager go, desperate times call for desperate measures. This team has only gotten worse since Martin Jol left, and with four straight multi-goal losses in the Premier League, it might be team to see if Alan Curbishley’s ready to return to the sidelines. Maybe he can organize a defense.

6. Relegation picture as murky as ever

Sunderland’s climb from 20th to 14th has been fueled not only by their amazing turnaround but by the traffic jam that continues to clog the table’s bottom half. From Stoke in 11th to Cardiff in 19th, only four points separate the nine teams currently in the middle of the relegation battle. One good, Black Cats-esque run could see any of them join Aston Villa above the muck. Fall on hard times, and a team starts to look like Fulham.

Stoke did the most for themselves this weekend. Not only did they move four clear of 18th but they claimed points their relegation rivals are unlikely to duplicate. Manchester United may be struggling, but they’re still capable of claiming three against most of the bottom half. Against Stoke, however, they left empty handed.

West Ham and Cariff also scored big wins, with the Hammers’ 2-0 victory over Swansea giving manager Sam Allardyce another reprieve. They may still but in the bottom three, but with Andy Carroll setting up two goals, there’s hope the return of their only real striker can carry them out of the drop. Provided stops collecting stupid red cards.

La Liga: Sevilla win late to move even with Atletico Madrid in 3rd

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MADRID (AP) Wissam Ben Yedder scored three minutes after entering the game to give Sevilla a late 2-1 win over 10-man Celta Vigo in the Spanish league on Thursday.

The victory moved Sevilla even on points with third-place Atletico Madrid with four matches left. Third place guarantees an automatic spot in the Champions League next season, while the fourth-placed team has to go through a playoff.

Ben Yedder netted the winner from close range after a low cross by Samir Nasri in the 79th minute, beating a defender to the ball and hitting the top of the net with a right-footed shot.

“It was a complex game but the team was able to overcome the difficulties,” Sevilla coach Jorge Sampaoli said.

Joaquin Correa put the host ahead after halftime, and Iago Aspas equalized by converting a penalty kick just minutes later. Aspas did not celebrate the goal out of respect to fans of his former club.

Sevilla dominated from the start and was pressuring vigorously in search of the winner, especially after Celta went a man down when midfielder Pablo Hernandez was sent off with a second yellow card in the 56th with the game 1-1.

Sergio Escudero and Nasri each struck the crossbar a few minutes apart late in the second half, and Vicente Iborra also had hit the woodwork earlier in the game played under steady rain in Seville.

It was the third win in four matches for Sevilla after a streak of five games without a win.

Sevilla and Atletico are level on points, but the Madrid club is ahead on the head-to-head tiebreaker.

Top PL Storylines: Bye-bye, St. Totteringham’s Day? So long, Sunderland?

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Ahead of Week 34 of the 2016-17 Premier League season, we’re most looking forward to keeping an eye on the following storylines…

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Cancel St. Totteringham’s Day?

8,018 days (otherwise known as 22.9 years) have passed since Tottenham Hotspur last finished above Arsenal in the Premier League. First of all, that’s a lot of days. Secondly, the time to reset that clock is nearly upon us, as Tottenham take a 14-point lead into Sunday’s North London derby (Watch live, 11:30 a.m. ET, on NBCSN and NBCSports.com) — perhaps the final one to be played at White Hart Lane. With Arsenal having only five games left to play after Sunday, a 17-point deficit would be mathematically impossible to overcome, and would guarantee Spurs’ first PL finish above Arsenal since the spring of 1995.

The fact that Spurs could end that embarrassing, heinous streak in a game against Arsenal, in perhaps their next-to-last game at White Hart Lane, and maybe even close to within a single point of Chelsea in the title race… it’s almost all too timely and too perfect to believe it could really happen… to Spurs.


Finish the job

With all due respect to Middlesbrough (home), West Bromwich Albion (away), Watford (home) and Sunderland (home), Sunday’s trip to Goodison Park, where they’ve lost on their last two visits (all competitions) and they’ll take on seventh-place Everton (Watch live, 9:05 a.m. ET, on CNBC and NBCSports.com), is far and away the toughest remaining fixture on Chelsea’s schedule as they chase a fifth PL-era title (fifth in all eras). Having booked their spot in the FA Cup final by beating Spurs last weekend, Antonio Conte is dreaming of — and a favorite to win — a double in his first season at Stamford.


Someone has to finish top-four

Ahead of the weekend, two points separate Liverpool (third), Manchester City (fourth) and Manchester United (fifth), with Arsenal another four back in sixth (but possessing a game in hand). Given all the points dropped by each of the aforementioned sides in recent weeks, it’s important to remember that someone has to finish third and fourth in the PL this season.

We’ve already discussed Arsenal’s titanic task, so here’s the challenges facing the other three this round: Liverpool, at Watford (Monday, 3 p.m. ET, on NBCSN and NBCSports.com); Man City, at Middlesbrough (Sunday, 9:05 a.m. ET, on  NBCSports.com); Manchester United, vs. Swansea City (7 a.m. ET, on CNBC and NBCSports.com).


So long, Sunderland?

For five seasons now, Sunderland have flirted with relegation from the PL; and every previous season, they’ve pulled a rabbit out of the hat and managed to stay up. This season, though, under David Moyes, there appears to be no rabbit. With five games to go, safety is a whopping 12 points away, which means a loss to Bournemouth on Saturday (Watch live, 10 a.m. ET, on NBCSports.com), coupled with a win or draw by 17th-place Hull City, would officially send Sunderland to the Championship next season. If the Black Cats somehow find their way out of this predicament, a northeastern knighthood awaits Mr. Moyes.

French authorities investigating 2018, 2022 World Cup bids

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PARIS (AP) French financial prosecutors are investigating the bidding process for the 2018 and 2022 World Cups and have heard former FIFA president Sepp Blatter.

A person with direct knowledge of the investigation told The Associated Press on Thursday that France’s financial prosecutor services (PNF) opened the investigation on grounds of private corruption, criminal association, influence peddling, and benefiting from influence peddling relating to the 2018 and 2022 World Cups, which were awarded to Russia and Qatar respectively.

The person spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly about the case.

Blatter was questioned in Switzerland last week as a witness, the same person told the AP.

The office of the attorney general of Switzerland said in a statement that “at the request of and in the context of proceedings being conducted by French justice authorities, it has questioned Mr. Joseph Blatter in his capacity as a person providing information on the 20th April 2017 in Zurich.”

The PNF opened its investigation last year.

FIFA has also been targeted by investigations led by Swiss and US authorities. Last month, FIFA sent 1,300 pages of internal investigation reports into suspected bribery and corruption to Switzerland’s attorney general. The documents complete a 22-month probe by legal firm Quinn Emanuel, which FIFA retained in the fallout from United States and Swiss federal prosecutors revealing their sprawling investigations of soccer corruption in May 2015.

Blatter said last week that he met with U.S. Department of Justice investigators and insisted he was not a suspect in their bribery and corruption case linked to FIFA.

Blatter was suspended from office in September 2015 and later banned from soccer by the FIFA ethics committee.

Johannsson expected to leave Bremen this summer — is MLS next?

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Aron Johannsson’s time at Werder Bremen is all but finished, as the 26-year-old American-born, Icelandic-raised striker is expected to leave the club this summer after 22 months with Die Werderaner.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s USMNT coverage | MLS ]

Having failed to make much of an impact during his second season in the Bundesliga, following a few promising days early in the fall of 2015, the German press stated on Thursday, in no uncertain terms, “Aron Johannsson is leaving the northern club” — quotes from Kicker (translation courtesy of Google Translate):

In addition, Aron Johannsson is leaving the northern club. The US boy was not able to get through the hard competition in the storm, claimed more time, which can hardly be guaranteed in the next season. The fact that Baumann is already talking about finding a meaningful solution with the striker in the summer can be interpreted as follows: Johannsson will leave Werder.

Since various bits and pieces are lost in the above translation, allow us to offer a translation of the translation: the “hard competition in the storm” refers to the three or four strikers presently ahead of him in the pecking order. Johannsson fell down the depth chart due in large part to a hip injury which cost him the final seven months of last season.

Johannsson was recently quoted as saying, “It’s not my desire to leave, but at the end of the day it’s important that I play. I love football, but I need to play to be happy.”

[ MORE: John Brooks hip injury is worrying ahead of World Cup qualifiers ]

So, what’s next for Johannsson?

He can probably forget about a move to a top-division team in any of Europe’s premier leagues (England, Spain, Germany, Italy and France). A move back to Holland, where he starred at AZ Alkmaar (39 goals in 81 games) before moving to Bremen, would make sense if his goal is to stay in Europe at all costs. Another strong season (just a half, even) could earn him another shot with a first-division side roughly the size of Bremen.

Then, there’s MLS, which Johannsson’s been linked with before, and has publicly expressed a desire to join one day. As a current U.S. national team player, a move to MLS would mean a trip through the league’s allocation order for Johannsson. As of this posting, the Houston Dynamo hold the no. 1 spot in the allocation order, with Columbus Crew SC, San Jose Earthquakes, Minnesota United and Orlando City SC rounding out the next five.

[ WATCH: If you haven’t Darlington Nagbe’s latest golazo ]

Any team in MLS could land Johannsson by acquiring the top spot in the allocation order, via trade, and agreeing (what would almost certainly be) a Designated Player contract with him.

At the age of 26, Johannsson will likely feel there is still something left for him to accomplish in Europe. A strong showing in this summer’s Gold Cup (he’s a perfect candidate for Bruce Arena’s “B-team”) could open plenty of eyes — and doors. Money talks, though, just as the opportunity to be the face of the franchise and score a boatload of goals in MLS might also do.