Fulham v Chelsea - Premier League

Fulham 1-3 Chelsea: Spectacular Schurrle extends Blues lead at the top (video)

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Chelsea cruised past West London rivals Fulham 3-1 at Craven Cottage on Saturday, as German international Andre Schurrle bagged his first-ever hat trick for the Blues.

In a timid first half Chelsea were second best but Fulham failed to capitalize on a few half chances, one of which fell to U.S. international Clint Dempsey early on but he headed wide. But after the break Chelsea came to life as Schurrle scored twice in the space of seven minutes after half time. Eden Hazard assisted on both goals as the Belgian star tore Fulham apart with Schurrle finishing superbly.

Then in the 68th minute Schurrle scored his third after good work from Torres, but Johnny Heitinga’s late consolation scuppered Chelsea’s hopes of getting a clean sheet.

With the win Chelsea now go four points clear of Arsenal in second, while Fulham remain rooted to the bottom of the PL standings.

(MORE: Mourinho on Chelsea going four points clear at top: “It is a fake advantage”)

Fulham started the brighter of the two teams and U.S. international Dempsey had a glorious chance to put the Cottagers ahead, but the attacker headed wide in the third minute.

The game was pretty even as Chelsea tried to get a stranglehold on proceedings and Fulham’s ‘keeper Maarten Stekelenburg almost gifted the visitors a goal. The Dutch ‘keeper made a real has of a clearance and Torres looked to be clean through but he stumbled on the ball and dragged his shot wide with other Chelsea players unmarked.

Dempsey was causing Chelsea plenty of problems in and around the box as the U.S. captain dribbled through Chelsea’ defense but was thwarted by John Terry and Gary Cahill with last ditch tackles. Chelsea struggled to get going at Craven Cottage in the first half as the long midweek trip away to Galatasaray looked to have taken its toll.

Just before the break Pajtim Kasami rifled a free kick in on goal but Petr Cech got down to save comfortably and Stekelenburg saved well from Torres, as the West London rivals went in level at 0-0 at half time.

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After the interval Chelsea looked refreshed and in the 51st minute they went 1-0 up as Schurrle played a one-two with Hazard, as the Belgian star clipped a terrific ball into Schurrle’s path, and the German winger slotted coolly past Stekelenburg to put Chelsea 1-0 up. Hazard turned creator again just before the hour mark as he performed a remarkable cross by flicking one foot behind the other and Torres’ header was somehow cleared by Fulham’s defense as the Cottagers held on.

Hazard dazzled once again in the 64th minute and his clever through ball found Schurrle who stayed onside and hammered a low shot into the  bottom corner to put Chelsea 2-0 up and dash any hopes Fulham had of launching a comeback. Soon after Schurrle bagged his third goal of the game, as Torres won an aerial challenge and played the ball through to Schurrle who finished coolly for his and Chelsea’s third.

Late on Fulham pushed to try and get back into the game and defender Heitinga scored his first goal for the Cottagers to make it 3-1, but that’s how it would finish as Chelsea extend their lead at the top of the standings.

LINEUPS

Fulham: Stekelenburg; Riether, Hangeland (Burn, 15), Heitinga, Richardson; Dejagah, Parker (Karagounis, 79), Sidwell, Dempsey; Kasami (Holtby, 62), Bent.

Goal: Heitinga (78)

Chelsea: Cech; Ivanovic, Cahill, Terry, Azpilicueta; Ramires, Matic; Schurrle (David Luiz, 87), Oscar (Oscar, 78), Hazard; Torres (Ba, 82)

Goals: Schurrle (51, 64, 68)

Loss to Sevilla quickly puts Real Madrid’s Zidane on the defensive

SEVILLE, SPAIN - JANUARY 15:  Head Coach of Real Madrid CF Zinedine Zidane looks on prior to  the match against Real Madrid CF during the La Liga match between Sevilla FC and Real Madrid CF at Estadio Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan on January 15, 2017 in Seville, Spain.  (Photo by Aitor Alcalde/Getty Images)
Photo by Aitor Alcalde/Getty Images
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MADRID (AP) Real Madrid’s first loss after a 40-game unbeaten streak was enough to put coach Zinedine Zidane on the defensive.

Two days after Madrid’s unbeaten record was halted by a 2-1 defeat at Sevilla in the Spanish league, Zidane was forced to defend some of his players against criticism from fans and local media.

[ MORE: Klopp, Liverpool still consulting lawyers over absurd Matip situation ]

Most comments were aimed at goalkeeper Keylor Navas, who failed to stop Sevilla’s injury-time winner on Sunday. Navas got to Stevan Jovetic‘s long-range shot but was unable to keep the ball from going in.

“He’s having a really good season,” Zidane said on Tuesday. “You can always ask for more, but if up until now we had gone 40 games without losing, it’s for a reason, and he has been there all the way.”

There have been calls for Zidane to give reserve goalkeeper Kiko Casilla a chance, but the coach said there was “no need to go over this again.”

Zidane also dismissed talk about signing a new goalkeeper.

“These are rumors,” he said. “We are focused on what we are doing this year. Whatever happens next I’m not interested and it’s not the time to talk about it. The three goalkeepers we have are important, they’re doing well and I’m very happy with them. I don’t want to change anything we’re doing.”

[ MORE: How Sevilla hope to break up the Madrid-Barca duopoly ]

Zidane defended forward Karim Benzema, who lost possession near midfield in a mistake that led to host Sevilla’s winner on Sunday.

“Everyone can say and write what they want,” Zidane said. “On a field, playing 90 minutes, you can’t do everything right. There is talk of lack of concentration, but we only had five bad minutes and that happens in football.”

Benzema also missed a chance to score from close range in the game, but a few days earlier it was the French striker who netted in stoppage time in a Copa del Rey match against Sevilla to help Madrid set the Spanish unbeaten record.

Zidane downplayed the end of Madrid’s unbeaten streak. The club hadn’t lost since a 2-0 defeat at Wolfsburg in the Champions League in April.

[ MORE: Monday’s transfer rumor roundup | Sunday | Friday | Thursday ]

“These things happen,” he said. “Nothing is going to change in what I’m going to do. Those who are not Real Madrid fans will want us to lose, but we must be ready and think that what we’re doing is fine. We lost a game, something that happens, and now we have to make sure that it doesn’t happen again.”

Madrid hosts Celta Vigo on Wednesday in a first-leg match in the quarterfinals of the Copa del Rey.

Celta has won all four matches this year.

“I am not surprised by Celta’s record because they’re a very good team, they fight and play very good football,” Zidane said. “It’ll be another complicated match for us.”

FA fines Man City’s Sagna over “10 against 12” Instagram message

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - JANUARY 02: Scott Arfield of Burnley (L) tackles Bacary Sagna of Manchester City (R) during the Premier League match between Manchester City and Burnley at Etihad Stadium on January 2, 2017 in Manchester, England.  (Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)
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LONDON (AP) The English Football Association has fined Manchester City defender Bacary Sagna 40,000 pounds (around $50,000) for an Instagram post about a referee.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s PL coverage ]

Sagna posted a photo with the caption “10 against 12.. but still fighting and winning as a team” on the social network site following City’s 2-1 win against Burnley on Jan. 2.

Sagna later amended the post to read “still fighting and winning as a team” after a match that saw referee Lee Mason send off midfielder Fernandinho.

[ MORE: Klopp, Liverpool still consulting lawyers over absurd Matip situation ]

The FA also warned Sagna about his future conduct.

Klopp, Liverpool still consulting lawyers over in-limbo Matip

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 11: Joel Matip of Liverpool and Andre Ayew of West Ham United compete for the ball during the Premier League match between Liverpool and West Ham United at Anfield on December 11, 2016 in Liverpool, England.  (Photo by Jan Kruger/Getty Images)
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Few footballing sagas will ever reach heights of absurdity comparable to that of the Joel Matip/Liverpool versus Cameroon/FIFA battle currently raging, as the Reds defender finds himself “ineligible” to play for his club due to an international call-up 18 months after announcing his international retirement.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s PL coverage ]

PST’s Joe Prince-Wright summed up the situation quite well, in full, right here. An excerpt:

Matip, 25, was called up by the Cameroon national team for the 2017 African Cup of Nations which is currently taking place in Gabon. However, the former Schalke defender has previously stated that he did not want to play for them and he had retired from international duty.

Cameroon called him into their initial 35-man squad for the competition anyway but did not include him in their final 23-man squad once it became clear Matip, along with six other players, had no interest in playing for them at AFCON.

FIFA has confirmed that Liverpool has been in touch regarding Matip’s status and it now appears that he will not be able to play in any other competition while Cameroon is still in AFCON action under Article 5 of FIFA’s rules.

[ MORE: Monday’s transfer rumor roundup | Sunday | Friday | Thursday ]

Fast forward a few days, and Jurgen Klopp and Co. have no further clarity regarding the situation. It’s so unclear, in fact, that Klopp said on Tuesday he may select the 25-year-old during one of two remaining games this week, and hope for the best — quotes from the Guardian:

“As you can imagine, we are in a lot of talks. We’ve done transfers quicker than this. It’s already long term but now it’s getting really tense on our side. We’ve tried everything but at the end I have to make the decision. Of course I have to ask [Liverpool’s lawyers] but the decision is for me to make. I could put him in the lineup. I don’t think the referee is going to say: ‘Stop, stop, you cannot go on the pitch.’ But I will do it when it’s OK from our point of view. Of course I need advice — I’m not a lawyer.”

“Most of the time in life you know if you do this, then you get this. But it’s not 100 percent clear what happens [if Matip plays]. We try everything to win football games. If this can happen — out of the tournament or whatever — then we have to decide about the risk. He’s ready to play for us and that makes it difficult.”

What an utter disaster of a situation Cameroon have intentionally created here.

VIDEO: Jeison Murillo’s incredible bicycle from a corner kick

MILAN, ITALY - JANUARY 17:  (R-L) Jeison Murillo of FC Internazionale celebrates his first goal with Geoffrey Kondogbia during the TIM Cup match between FC Internazionale and Bologna FC at Stadio Giuseppe Meazza on January 17, 2017 in Milan, Italy.  (Photo by Pier Marco Tacca/Getty Images)
Photo by Pier Marco Tacca/Getty Images)
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Look away now, Andy Carroll. Take a bow, Jeison Murillo.

[ VIDEOS: All in a week’s work — Messi free kick no. 1 | Messi free kick no. 2 ]

Just three days after Carroll scored the bicycle-kick goal of the year (so we thought), here comes Murillo, Inter Milan’s 24-year-old Colombian striker, to steal his thunder (below video). The fact he did it directly from a corner kick, with the ball traveling roughly 40 yards before flinging his body into the air and striking the ball so cleanly, (somehow) trumps Carroll’s accomplishment from Saturday.

[ MORE: PL Power Rankings — Tight at the top… and bottom ]

Sensational goals come in twos now, apparently, as Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Olivier Giroud scored stunning scorpion-kick goals (WATCH HERE and HERE) just days apart earlier in the season.