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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.

Ahead of huge top four showdowns, who are the title favorites?

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This weekend is massive. Huge. Monumental.

[ VIDEO: Arsenal-Leicester preview ]

In terms of the Premier League title race having two games between all of the current top four means one thing: bedlam.

Following the Arsenal vs. Leicester City (Watch live, 7 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via Live Extra) and Manchester City vs. Tottenham Hotspur (Watch live, 11:15 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via Live Extra) encounter, we should be provided with a much better idea of where the title is heading.

[ VIDEO: Man City-Tottenham preview

Then again, if Arsenal beat Leicester and Man City draw with Spurs, there will be just five points between all four teams. With 13 games to go this is tight and tense and the most open title race we’ve had in decades. It is also awesome.

[ MORE: Arsenal to play in 2016 MLS All-Star Game ] 

Let’s take a look at all four title contenders and try to see who has the best chance of winning this thing on May 15.


Leicester City
Current position: 1st (53 points)
Biggest plus: No pressure, they were meant to be relegated
Biggest negative: None of their current squad have ever been in this situation. How will they cope?
Key man: Jamie Vardy – A few off days in front of goal recently for the PL’s main man. If he regains his touch, the Foxes will win it.
3 key games: Feb. 14 at Arsenal, Apr. 30 at Man United, May 15 at Chelsea
Strength of remaining schedule (1 is weak, 10 is tough): 2/10 – The best of any of the title contenders, on paper, and no cup games.


Tottenham Hotspur
Current position: 2nd (48 points)
Biggest plus: Mauricio Pochettino. He’s met every major challenge head on.
Biggest negative: Having the FA Cup and Europa League to contend with. Relatively small squad compared to the rest.
Key man: Harry Kane – If he can hit yet another purple patch, combined with Spurs’ solid defense, then that will be huge.
3 key games: Feb. 14 at Man City, Mar. 5 vs. Arsenal, Apr. 9 vs. Chelsea
Strength of remaining schedule: 3/10 – A very soft run-in for Spurs between now and the end of the season.


Arsenal
Current position: 3rd (48 points)
Biggest plus: They have the biggest squad and with Cech in goal their defense looks very settled.
Biggest negative: How many times have we been here before? Have to get over mental barrier, plus UCL and FA Cup to focus on too.
Key man: Alexis Sanchez – Hasn’t quite hit top form since returning from his hamstring injury. Can he hit top gear during crunch time?
3 key games: Feb. 14 vs. Leicester City, Mar. 5 vs. Tottenham, May 7 at Man City
Strength of remaining schedule: 6/10 – Probably the toughest out of all the contenders. Really need Sanchez and Mesut Ozil to pull through.


Manchester City
Current position: 4th (47 points)
Biggest plus: Strongest squad and Vincent Kompany should be returning soon. That, and wanting to send Pellegrini out on a high.
Biggest negative: Guardiola arriving means plenty of uncertainty. If Aguero or Kompany go down injured, title run could be over.
Key man: Vincent Kompany – City will always score goals with Aguero, Sterling, Silva and De Bruyne but they need Vinny back. Big time.
3 key games: Mar. 2 at Liverpool, Mar. 20 vs. Man United, May 7 vs. Arsenal
Strength of remaining schedule: 5/10 – Marginally easier than Arsenal’s because they play United and the Gunners at home. Still. Very tough.


 

Arsenal named as 2016 MLS All-Star Game opponent in San Jose

LONDON, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 28:  Mesut Ozil (C) of Arsenal celebrates scoring his team's second goal with his team mates Hector Bellerin (L) and Aaron Ramsey (R) during the Barclays Premier League match between Arsenal and A.F.C. Bournemouth at Emirates Stadium on December 28, 2015 in London, England.  (Photo by Ian Walton/Getty Images)
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Arsenal is coming to San Jose, California.

On Thursday it was announced that the Premier League giants will take part in the 2016 MLS All-Star Game at Avaya Stadium, home of the San Jose Earthquakes.

[ VIDEO: Ferrell – “I got Mourinho fired”

The decision to play against another PL opponent makes it the ninth time that’s happened and MLS’ best will have faced seven different PL clubs in Fulham, Chelsea, West Ham United, Everton, Manchester United, Tottenham and now Arsenal.

The venue for the 2016 ASG will be San Jose’s splendid, yet slightly compact, Avaya Stadium and the game will take place on July 28 at 9 p.m. ET.

[ VIDEO: Arsenal-Leicester preview

Gunners fans in North America hoping to get tickets for the clash will have to act fast as the ‘Quakes home only holds 18,000 people, but there will be another chance to watch Arsenal play as they will face Chivas Guadalajara at the StubHub Center in Carson, Calif. on July 31.

Safe to say Arsene Wenger won’t need to don his famous long padded jacket for matches in California this July…

As well as seeing Arsenal stars Mesut Ozil, Alexis Sanchez, Petr Cech, Olivier Giroud and more, the chance to watch young U.S. international Gedion Zelalem in action will excite many. That said, with the game coming late in July, plenty of Arsenal’s top stars may be on extended breaks due to their exertions for their national teams at the 2016 European Championships and the 2016 Copa America Centenario also being staged in North America.

VIDEO: Previewing the massive Man City vs. Tottenham encounter

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On the same day Arsenal host Leicester City in a clash between two title contenders (Watch live, 7 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via Live Extra) the two other teams in the top two also meet on Sunday.

Your Valentine’s Day is officially sorted.

[ VIDEO: Ferrell – “I got Mourinho fired”

On Sunday Manchester City welcome Tottenham Hotspur (Watch live, 11:15 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via Live Extra) to the Etihad Stadium as second-place Spurs sit just one point above fourth-place City. It could not be tighter at the top.

Earlier this season Spurs hammered an injury-hit City 4-1 at White Hart Lane and revenge will be sweet for Sergio Aguero and Co. as both teams are in serious contention to win the Premier League this season.

[ MORE: Preview – Arsenal vs. Leicester ]

In terms of their clashes at the Etihad, Spurs have not found it a happy hunting ground in recent years as they’ve lost four of their last five games away at City. Their last two defeats have been 6-0 and 4-1. Expect a tighter clash this time around as Harry Kane looks to keep his hot-streak going and City will aim to bounce back from their demoralizing, and potentially crucial, home defeat to Leicester last weekend.

So much on the line this Sunday. Click play on the video above to hear all the major headlines heading into this clash.

Mourinho to Man United: Key players to be sold? Locker room unrest, transfer gossip

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The papers are having a field day with the Jose Mourinho to Manchester United whispers.

[ VIDEO: Ferrell – “I got Mourinho fired”

Several different outlets are reporting numerous pieces of gossip about Mourinho, 53, taking over at United this summer and now seems like a good time to round it all up and have a look at what is out there.

[ VIDEO: Arsenal-Leicester preview

Here it goes…

[ REPORT: Mourinho tells friends he’s going to United


First up, the wages.

Okay, Louis Van Gaal, 64, still has a contract with the Red Devils through the 2016-17 season but many believe that barring a miraculous finish to the current campaign the Dutchman will be let go this summer. If that’s the case — and with United six points off the top four it certainly seems like another season of disappointment will play out — then El Confidencial is reporting that Mourinho will be handed a contract worth $20 million a year. That may seem like a lot, but actually it would be $9 million less a year than Manchester City is paying Pep Guardiola to be their boss. Interesting.

Juicy nugget number two: The Daily Mail states that Mourinho has already instructed executive vice-chairman Ed Woodward to sell Juan Mata and Marouane Fellaini. The midfield duo aren’t in Mourinho’s plans with the Portuguese coach selling Mata to United during his time in charge of Chelsea, while he doesn’t appear to be a fan of Belgian midfielder Fellaini either.

No. 3: The Daily Star reports that Mourinho will be handed $420 million to spend on new players and totally rebuild the under-performing squad. The same report claims Mourinho has his eye on Neymar, Edinson Cavani, Thomas Muller, Paul Pogba and Raphael Varane to help restore United to past glories and add to his tally of three Premier League titles during five full seasons with Chelsea.

And finally, and perhaps not unsurprisingly, the Sun reports that United’s locker room is split over whether Mourinho arriving would be a good thing. Well, yeah, with a massive cull on the horizon if he does arrive, it’s not too difficult to understand that the general feeling among the players will be one of trepidation. However, the main issue seems to be where No. 2 Ryan Giggs will fit into Mourinho’s plans if he does get the job.

Again, take these reports with a pinch of salt but it’s certainly interesting to keep your ear to the ground and listen to all of the tidbits circling about Mourinho’s potential arrival at Old Trafford.