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Five things we learned in the Premier League today

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Today proved telling in the Premier League.

Manchester United looked to have broken through against a stubborn Fulham side, only to see it all slip away again at the end.

Meanwhile, one frustrating moment undid Everton at White Hart Lane, but both sides impressed as they search for an outside shot at the top four.

So what did we learn from today’s action? Plenty.

Manchester United gave their critics even more fodder, Tim Sherwood continues to prove his doubters wrong, and Fulham grabbed Premier League safety by the shoestring, but they still have plenty to do as they attempt the Mt. Everest-like climb out of the basement.

1) Manchester United is simply not good enough for the Champions League.

To put it simply, there are too many great teams in the Premier League this season, and Manchester United isn’t one of them. Aging players like Nemanja Vidic and Darren Fletcher wouldn’t start for Arsenal, Chelsea, or Manchester City, let alone captain them.

Fletcher was to blame on Fulham’s first goal, with his horrible tracking of Steve Sidwell, despite looking back at the midfielder three times before his run.  Look at the previous Fulham results to the other top sides: Arsenal won collectively 5-1 over their two fixtures with Fulham.  Liverpool beat them 4-0. Manchester City put up four on this defense. Hell, even Hull City packed it on with six.

This Manchester United side is good, but not great, and the Champions League is for great teams. For the first time in Premier League history, Manchester United will not make the top 4. They’re currently nine points back, and it appears their challenge for Europe’s top competition may be too far out of reach.

2) Fulham are still in deep doo-doo, but they’re not done yet

Fulham showed a ton of heart today at Old Trafford, remaining composed even four minutes deep into extra time.  It’s the first time anyone’s really been able to say that all season. Things still look incredibly bleak for Rene Meulensteen’s bunch who sit four points from safety, but it’s not over just yet.

Being harsh on them today, they probably needed three points to ward off many of the worrywarts, and even Meulensteen may rue the two points dropped today come May. But the performance showed that this team still has heart, and still has fight – something that’s been impossible to say this year before today.

The visitors made EIGHTY-FOUR clearances today at Old Trafford and the Premier League’s most porous defense showed their new look may be a vast improvement.  Add Kostas Mitroglou on the other end in an attack that already boasts the classy addition of Lewis Holtby, and they could possibly make a run.

But first, they have to deal with Liverpool and Chelsea in the next three weeks. Yikes.

3) Tim Sherwood is the real deal

What Tim Sherwood has done at Tottenham Hotspur cannot be understated.  A relative unknown to anyone outside White Hart Lane at the time of his appointment, he has taken a mentally broken side and revitalized them.

There’s a big difference between the temporary boost a team often sees at the time of a managerial switch and what Sherwood is accomplishing at Spurs.  Andre Villas Boas benefited greatly from Daniel Levy’s brilliant summer transfer window, but the Portugese manager never could quite make things fit with the vast quantity of new players.

Sherwood, in under two months, has managed to do what Villas Boas could not.  He’s revitalized Emmanuel Adebayor, slotted Roberto Soldado into a more fitting role (which, with his form this year, has sometimes been on the bench), and has found the key to unlocking Christian Eriksen’s Premier League success.

While Adebayor’s revival will undoubtedly get the headlines, and deservedly so, flying under the radar is Sherwood’s ability to find the proper use of Eriksen.  A lost child in a supermarket under Villas Boas, he’s been freed of his touchline shackles and allowed to roam the pitch more freely under Sherwood and the results have been bright.

Expect more victories under Sherwood, and while it would seem the top four may elude them once again if Liverpool continue on this torrid run, but the future is bright.

4) Everton are a quality side, but…

Today Everton produced enough to challenge a Tottenham Hotspur side, and Roberto Martinez’s tactics relied on pressure and hard work to earn the ball and create chances.

source: Getty Images
Steven Naismith was no Romelu Lukaku up front today for Everton as they fell 1-0 to Tottenham despite playing well enough to earn a point.

Unfortunately, they were undone by one key miss: Romelu Lukaku.  Without a true striker, especially their loanee who’s been stellar up front this year, Everton were forced to start Steven Naismith at the top of their attack, and they paid the price.  Naismith was wasteful, and often undid much of his own hard work with a lack of finishing.

The forward finished without a shot technically, but he botched a few chances, and in the end finished with 10 of his 16 completed passes headed backwards.

Martinez has proved a fantastic hire in replace of David Moyes, and the addition of Lacina Traore will surely help Everton make it through however long Lukaku is out with little damage, but a loss today to a team so close in the table hurts dearly.

Long story short: Everton will be fine, and are easily a top-7 side, but any more wasteful performances and it doesn’t matter who their manager is or how great his plans are fit to beating the opponent.

5) This miserable season at Manchester United still is mostly not David Moyes’ fault

Looking at everything going wrong at Manchester United, little of it has anything to do with David Moyes.  He ultimately may be the sacrificial lamb in a year that is wholly unacceptable by United’s standards, but peering around the squad, Sir Alex Ferguson and the rest of the United front office handed Moyes a group of players doomed to fail.

Nemanja Vidic is aging. So is Patrice Evra. Robin van Persie’s age hasn’t affected his output, but it has affected his ability to stay match fit.  Ashley Young has never fit in at Manchester United despite their refusal to replace him. Shinji Kagawa may not actually be the right style for the Premier League.  And Wayne Rooney can only carry so much on his back.

While his insistence to play Adnan Januzaj on the wing can certainly be criticized (and rightly so), his tactics against Fulham today or mostly throughout the season cannot.  Manchester United pumped a total of 82 crosses into Fulham’s box, and while it took a while to click, it eventually worked, and noting Fulham’s lack of outside defending in recent months, the plan makes perfect sense.  What did United in was a pair of terrible mistakes at the back, something that cannot be fixed by the manager.

Moyes did incredibly well to bring in Juan Mata, and the Spaniard has arguably been the best player at Old Trafford since his arrival, including setting up United’s breakthrough today.  Bringing in Marouane Fellaini was ultimately a failure, but hindsight is 20/20, and at the time they desperately need a physical midfielder (they still do).

If I was a Manchester United fan, I’d be pointing equal fingers at whoever handed Moyes this aging, fragile defensive unit that has let them down time and again this season.

Honorable mention: Dan Burn is the real deal

Whether or not Fulham stay up this season (chances are they still won’t) the 6-foot-5 21-year-old has opened plenty of eyes. He was a force in preventing Manchester United from landing 64 of their 82 crosses.  He made 22 clearances against the Red Devils – a staggering number – including 15 with his head.

What seemed like a desperate move in recalling Burn from his season-long loan spell at Birmingham has turned into a master-class decision by Meulensteen.  The move likely cost Fulham a bit of cash to cancel his loan, and upset a great deal of Birmingham City brass.

However, with Brede Hangeland aging and slow to react, Burn has emerged as not just Fulham’s best defender, but possibly a solid option for a top team in the future.  He’s reminding many Fulham fans of the Hangeland of old, something that many at Craven Cottage could get very used to.

MLS Snapshot: Toronto FC 1-1 Philadelphia Union (video)

Toronto FC's Jozy Altidore, center, shields the ball from Philadelphia Union's Richie Marquez, left, as Ken Tribbett looks on during first half MLS soccer action in Toronto on Saturday, Sept. 24, 2016. (Chris Young/The Canadian Press via AP)
Chris Young/The Canadian Press via AP
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The game in 100 words (or less): Another week goes by, and the world remains clueless with regard to the top three places in MLS’s Eastern Conference. Toronto FC entered the weekend with a two-point lead on the New York Red Bulls and New York City FC; then, NYCFC won big on Friday to go a point ahead. With RBNY still to face the Montreal Impact on Saturday, all three sides could finish the weekend on 48 points, a three-way tie atop the East, following TFC’s 1-1 draw with the Philadelphia Union at BMO Field. The home side went down a goal in the first half, via Alejandro Bedoya’s firt MLS goal — a chipped beauty (WATCH HERE) — before Justin Morrow played the role of unlikely hero, snatching TFC’s equalizer in the 70th minute. Saturday’s game marked TFC’s third without Sebastian Giovinco (quad/adductor injuries). TFC have won five of a possible nine points without the reigning — soon-to-be-back-to-back? — MLS MVP.

[ MORE: Playoff Picture — 4 teams can clinch playoff berth this weekend ]

Three Four moments that mattered

25′ — Bedoya chips Irwin for 1-0 — It was just about the most difficult route to goal, but Bedoya wasn’t fazed one bit. Poor Clint Irwin, he was hardly even off his line. (WATCH HERE)

43′ — Irwin makes the point-blank save on Herbers — Reaction saves from point-blank range don’t get much better than this one by Irwin. Keeping his side in it.

70′ — Morrow slots home to bring TFC level — Jonathan Osorio did brilliantly to keep his composure with ample opportunity to take a difficult shot toward goal. Instead, he played Morrow through, and the full back finished the chance like a world-class striker.

90+3′ — Altidore hacked down in the box, no PK given — Ismail Elfath had long ago swallowed his whistle, apparently, because Jozy Altidore was hacked down inside the penalty area by C.J. Sapong, and TFC were absolutely bewildered by the no-call.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s MLS coverageStandings | Stats | Schedule ]

Man of the match: Alejandro Bedoya

Goalscorers: Bedoya (25′), Morrow (70′)

VIDEO: Alejandro Bedoya’s first MLS goal was a delicious chip

Alejandro Bedoya, Philadelphia Union (Photo credit: Philadelphia Union / Twitter: @PhilaUnion)
Photo credit: Philadelphia Union / Twitter: @PhilaUnion
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Good things come to those who wait.

Alejandro Bedoya has been very patient in waiting for his first MLS goal after making his summer transfer to the Philadelphia Union. 547 minutes — not too terribly long, honestly — is all it took the U.S. national team midfielder to bag the first stateside club goal, and it proved more than worth the wait on Saturday.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s MLS coverage ]

Goalkeeper Clint Irwin was precisely 3.5 yards off his line as Bedoya dribbled into space down the right side of the penalty area, 20 yards from goal and closing. At 18 yards out, Bedoya went for goal.

The obvious choice is to put your right foot through the ball, and hit it low and inside the far post. Bedoya had something else — something much more audacious and delightful — on his mind.

Take. A. Bow.

La Liga & Serie A: Real Madrid falter; Barcelona score 5 (again) without Messi

GIJON, SPAIN - SEPTEMBER 24:  Luis Suarez of FC Barcelona celebrates with his teammate Neymar of FC Barcelona after scoring the opening goal during the La Liga match between Real Sporting de Gijon and FC Barcelona at Estadio El Molinon on September 24, 2016 in Gijon, Spain.  (Photo by Juan Manuel Serrano Arce/Getty Images)
Photo by Juan Manuel Serrano Arce/Getty Images
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A roundup of Saturday’s action in Spain and Italy’s top flights…

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s La Liga coverage ]

Las Palmas 2-2 Real Madrid

Real Madrid remain top of La Liga, but their lead was reduce from three points to one on Saturday. Up 2-1 heading into the games final 20 minutes, Zinedine Zidane elected to pull Cristiano Ronaldo off the field in the 72nd minute — much to the Portuguese’s displeasure. Zidane then watched as his side conceded an 85th-minute equalizer and ultimately settled for a draw.

Marco Asensio put Los Blancos ahead in the 33rd minute, but Las Palmas answered through Tana in the 38th minute, making it 1-1 at halftime. Karim Benzema scored what looked to be the winner in the 67th minute, but Sergio Araujo pegged the league leaders back once more with five minutes of regular time remaining.

Sporting Gijon 0-5 Barcelona

No Lionel Messi, no problem for Barcelona, who still have those Luis Suarez and Neymar guys. Without the world’s undisputed best player on Saturday, the dynamic duo combined to score three goals — two more than Barca would need on the day — as the Blaugrana scored five or more goals for the third time in six league games this season.

Rafinha and Arda Turan — decent enough players in their own right — bagged the other goals, and just like that, Barca capitalized on the points dropped by Madrid.

Elsewhere in La Liga

Eibar 2-0 Real Sociedad
Athletic Bilbao 3-1 Sevilla

Sunday’s La Liga schedule

Leganes vs. Valencia — 6 a.m. ET
Atletico Madrid vs Deportivo La Coruña — 10:15 a.m. ET
Villarreal vs. Osasuna — 12:30 p.m. ET
Espanyol vs. Celta Vigo — 2:45 p.m. ET


Palermo 0-1 Juventus

Juve won for the fifth time in six games this season, but needed an own goal from Palermo’s Edoardo Goldaniga to do so. The game was scoreless at halftime, before the 22-year-old center back shanked his clearance of Dani Alves’s cross past Josip Posavec and into his own net for the game’s only goal in the 49th minute. That’s 15 points from six games for Juve, who remain top of Serie A by a point.

Napoli 2-0 Chievo

Marek Hamsik and Manolo Gabbiadini scored goals 15 minutes apart in the first half to propel Napoli to their fourth win of the season — to go with a pair of draws — and retain their place as the last remaining unbeaten side in the league. Napoli sit a point back of Juve for the league lead, and four points clear of everyone else alraedy. It’ll be a two-horse race for the title, then.

 

Sunday’s La Liga schedule

Torino vs. Roma — 6:30 a.m. ET
Genoa vs. Pescara — 9 a.m. ET
Inter Milan vs. Bologna — 9 a.m. ET
Lazio vs. Empoli — 9 a.m. ET
Sassuolo vs. Udinese — 9 a.m. ET
Fiorentina vs. AC Milan — 2:45 p.m. ET

PL Sunday preview: West Ham, desperate to end skid, host Southampton

LONDON, ENGLAND - SEPTEMBER 21:  Dimitri Payet of West Ham United celebrates scoring his sides first goal during the  EFL Cup Third Round match between West Ham United and Accrington Stanley at the London Stadium on September 21, 2016 in London, England.  (Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images)
Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images
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The 2016-17 Premier League season wasn’t supposed to be like for West Ham United. After moving into their new home, the repurposed Olympic Stadium in London, this year was meant to be about building on top of last season’s seventh-place finish, which saw them in the top-four race until the final days of the campaign.

[ MORE: All of PST’s PL coverage ]

Fast forward four months, and Slaven Bilic‘s men have just one win from five games this season and find themselves 18th in the league table heading into Sunday’s clash with Southampton (Watch live, 11 a.m. ET, on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com). Home form (one win, one loss) has only been slightly better for the Hammers’ form away from home, where they’re 0-for-3 thus far. Michail Antonio has five goals this season, joint-top in the PL, all of which have been scored via headers.

Early-season fortunes have been only marginally better for Saints, having won five points from their first five games of the season. Manager Claude Puel got his first PL victory last weekend, though, over Swansea City, as his side notched its first clean sheet of the season.

[ MORE: Saturday roundup — Arsenal thrash Chelsea; City, Liverpool win big ]

Following another summer of key departures in the transfer market (Sadio Mane, Victor Wanyama and Graziano Pelle), one can’t help but wonder how many more times the south coast can reload at the top of its squad without a noticeable falling-off, even if for just one season. Through five games, Saints have scored just four goals, including one own goal — Charlie Austin, Nathan Redmond and Jay Rodriguez the scorers. European qualification looks a long way off from 15th place, where they currently stand, and even farther off from Saints’ early-season performances.

INJURIES: West Ham OUT: Andre Ayew (thigh), Andy Carroll (knee), Diafra Sakho (back), Aaron Cresswell (knee) | Southampton OUT: Sofiane Boufal (knee)