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Quick Six: Pardew’s headbutt, Arsenal’s tumble, and the rest of the headlines from the Premier League weekend

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1. Pardew headbutt overshadows teams rout in Hull

On Saturday, Newcastle found more goals than it’d scored in its previous five games combined, yet thanks to the antics of its manager, that’s a factoid you’re probably reading for the first time, over 24 hours after the Magpies took a 4-1 win out of the KC Stadium. Headbutting Tigers’ midfielder David Meyler in the second half of Newcastle’s visit to Hull City, Alan Pardew stole the weekend’s headlines while nearly seeing himself out of a job.

That possibility — one that would see him lose the security of a contract that runs through 2020 — seems slim after Newcastle said the six-digit fine it handed Pardew last night would be the last it’d have to say on the matter. Follow up reporting confirmed that owner Mike Ashley, while furious at Pardew’s lack of restraint, was unlikely to let him go, even if the incident does give the Magpies a chance to get out of that ill-advised extension.

But as the club said in its Saturday statement, the real shame of the situation is the distraction. Yes, the headbutt is egregious, but Meyler is unhurt, and Pardew will surely be handed an involuntary vacation by the Football Association. After that’s done and the fines are paid, people will have long forgotten Moussa Sissoko’s brace and complementing goals from Loïc Remy and Vurnon Anita. They’ll have forgotten a decisive result at Hull City has Newcastle threatening to claim a European spot.

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2. Arsenal returning to 2012-13 leVels

Speaking of overshadowed, Stoke City’s incremental improvement over the last two months was relegated to subtext after their upset win over Arsenal on Saturday. With a late penalty controversially given against Laurent Koscielny, Jonathan Walters was able to snatch a 1-0 victory for their Potters, their second win over one of the Premier League’s titans since the calendar turned.

(MORE: Stoke City 1-0 Arsenal: Walters penalty enough to sink the Gunners)

But with Mark Hughes’ team inching toward that netherworld between relevance and relegation, all headlines focused on the loss’s implications for Arsenal. With one win in their last four, the Gunners have fallen four points behind Chelsea, with a goal difference 14 worse than Liverpool forcing Arsenal to cede second place in the Premier League. With Manchester City holding two matches in hand, fourth place suddenly looks like Arsenal’s most likely finishing spot.

Given the Gunners came entered the season with Champions League doubts, a top-four finish would have to be considered a successful campaign. Having spent much of the year in the top two, that spot would also represent a concession, one that becomes more likely with performances like Saturday’s at Stoke.

3. RODGERS PUSHES Reds INTO second place

Southampton’s regression from their strong start makes it easy to take results like Saturday’s for granted, but when you see Arsenal stumble at Stoke you can appreciate what a 3-0 result at St. Mary’s says about Liverpool. You can also appreciate why the Reds have tracked down Arsène Wenger’s team in the standings, with the continued maturation of Brendan Rodgers evident in Liverpool’s win over the Saints.

(MORE: Southampton 0-3 Liverpool: Reds slip into second)

Rodgers is a manager that regularly espouses a want to dictate games, but facing Southampton team which also enjoys their share of play, the Liverpool boss dropped Raheem Sterling in favor of Joe Allen, electing to go with four in the middle against Mauricio Pochettino’s side.  The move sent the Reds into halftime up one, with Liverpool doubling their lead once Sterling was brought on in the second.

After spending the first half of the season feeling out his squad — toying with three at the back while trying to figure out how to use Luis Suárez with Daniel Sturridge — Rodgers has gotten to a point where he can do no wrong. His team’s chances of claiming an unlikely title still rest behind Chelsea’s and Manchester City’s, but come the end of the season, no manager will have done more with their squad than Liverpool’s second year boss.

4. SchÜrrle eruption stains Mourinho’s narrative

Relegated to a substitute’s role for most of the season, Andre Schürrle received back-to-back starts this week, with the German international rewarding José Mourinho’s fate with a game-winning performance on Saturday. With goals in the 52nd, 65th, and 68th minutes at Craven Cottage, Schürrle led what’s become Chelsea’s trademark second half surge, the team’s 3-1 win leaving the Blues four points clear at the top of the Premier League.

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

Mourinho’s tried to mitigate the impact of that lead by noting Manchester City’s games in hand, but with only 10 rounds left in the Premier League season, time is running out for the Citizens to make their move. At a minimum, the 12 leagues game remaining on City’s schedule will come in a more compact period of time, increasing the chances the 2011-12 champions will drop points against lesser opponents. While Chelsea’s possibilities of advancing in Champions League could also crowd their fixture list, Manchester City remains alive in the FA Cup.

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

With City’s depth, there’s reason to think the Sky Blues can manage their work load. It’s a case José Mourinho makes every match day. As the months come off the calendar, however, the Chelsea boss is running out of time to convince us his team won’t win the Premier League.

source: AP5. Villa reverses fortunes, routs Norwich City

The up-and-down season of Aston Villa took another sharp turn for the better on Sunday, with a team that had one point and one goal in its four previous matches taking out its frustrations in the first half against Norwich City. After conceding within three minutes to January target Wes Hoolahan, Villa got two before the half hour mark from Christian Benteke (right), with goals from Leandro Bacuna and Sébastien Bassong (own goal) putting the match away before the teams hit the dressing room. With a 4-1 win at Villa Park, Paul Lambert orchestrated an embarrassing afternoon for his former team, enacting a small piece of revenge for the uneasy feelings that have lingered since his departure from Carrow Road.

(MORE: Aston Villa 4-1 Norwich City: Christian Benteke leads first half Villa flurry)

For Norwich City, coming off a 1-0 victory over Tottenham, the result adds to the confusion that has defined Chris Hughton’s time with the Canaries. The team looks on track for survival, if barely so, though results like today’s hint a collapse could come at any time. But give him a few more weeks, and Hughton will find a way to produce another upset, one that will underscore the uneasy security the former Newcastle and Birmingham manager has brought to Norfolk.

Should Norwich move on from Hughton? More than a few Canaries fans are in this camp, but there seems to be some certainty that comes with staying the course. That contentment might make for disappointments like Sunday’s, but it also avoids the risks that come with trying something new.

source: AP6. Not-so-moving day at the bottom of the league

Sunday’s schedule looked like an opportunity to shake up the relegation race, but after the day’s three games, the league’s bottom six remained unchanged. Fulham still occupy the cellar, with Cardiff’s loss at Spurs leaving the Bluebirds in 19th. Sunderland’s place in the Capital One Cup final meant their status would go unchanged, while West Brom, Crystal Palace, and Norwich held their ground. Palace’s draw at Swansea was the only point claimed by the league’s bottom six.

(MORE: Tottenham 1-0 Cardiff City: Roberto Soldado puts scoring woes in past)

(MORE: Swansea City 1-1 Crystal Palace: Late Swans blunder allows Palace to snatch a point)

That’s good news for the Baggies, Eagles, and Canaries, who see another week tick off the schedule without falling into the drop. For the bottom three, however, spring is coming. Felix Magath, Ole Gunnar Solskjær (right), and Guy Poyet are running out of games to figure out solutions. Even if they do find the right formula before the season closes, they may not have enough time for their answers to prevent drops into the second division.

Watch Live: Sunderland vs. Manchester United (Lineups, Stream)

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - SEPTEMBER 26:  Anthony Martial of Manchester United and John O'Shea of Sunderland compete for the ball during the Barclays Premier League match between Manchester United and Sunderland at Old Trafford on September 26, 2015 in Manchester, United Kingdom.  (Photo by Dean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty Images)
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Struggling Sunderland host top-four chasing Manchester United on Saturday (Watch live, 7:45 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online goal Live Extra) at the Stadium of Light.

The Black Cats haven’t won in their last four games and are four points of safety. Desperation sums up the mood for Sam Allardyce‘s side.

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The same could be said for United as Louis Van Gaal‘s side continue to leak goals and they’re now six points off the top four with just 13 games to go. Speculation linking Jose Mourinho with a summer arrival at Old Trafford continues with LVG’s job seemingly on the line.

Sunderland’s survival hopes took an unexpected hit this week, as winger Adam Johnson had his contract terminated after he surprisingly pleading guilty to a child sex charge in court.

In team news Sunderland bring in DeAndre Yedlin for Billy Jones, while United bring in Morgan Schneiderlin for Marouane Fellaini.  

LINEUPS

Sunderland: Mannone, Yedlin, O’Shea, Kone, van Aanholt, Kirchhoff, Cattermole, M’Vila, Khazri, N’Doye, Defoe. Subs: Brown, Rodwell, Borini, Matthews, Pickford, Toivonen, Honeyman

Manchester United: De Gea, Darmian, Smalling, Blind, Borthwick-Jackson, Schneiderlin, Carrick, Lingard, Mata, Martial, Rooney. Subs: Romero, Love, Weir, Pereira, Herrera, Memphis, Keane.

Xavi backs Dybala, Verratti to succeed at Barcelona over Pogba

TURIN, ITALY - JANUARY 24:  Paulo Dybala (R) of Juventus FC celebrates after scoring the opening goal with team mate Paul Pogba during the Serie A match between Juventus FC and AS Roma at Juventus Arena on January 24, 2016 in Turin, Italy.  (Photo by Valerio Pennicino/Getty Images)
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With Paul Pogba linked with a possible summer move to Barcelona worth more than $100 million, one legend at Camp Nou believes Pogba may not be the right signing.

[ MORE: Top 5 PL storylines ]

After making more than 700 appearances for Barcelona, Xavi knows the club as well as anyone, and he prefers Pogba’s Juventus teammate Paulo Dybala for a move to the Catalan giants.

Xavi also praised the play of Paris Saint-Germain’s Marco Verratti, saying that while Pogba is a star player, Dybala and Verratti have “Barca DNA.”

There’s two players I really like, both of whom I think have Barca’s DNA. They are Marco Verratti and Paulo Dybala.

They are amazing and, thanks to their quality and style of play, would easily integrate into the [Barca] machine. I see them as future stars at the club.

[Pogba] is a great player. He’ll be a star for France as he is for Juve, but I see him with a different game to ours.

Both Pogba and Dybala are 22-years-old, while Verratti is 23. All three players have been among the elite young talents in the world, with Pogba earning the most praise of the group and always linked with a big-money move to Europe’s top clubs.

[ RELATED: Messi named La Liga Player of the Month for first time in career ]

Dybala is enjoying a breakout season at Juventus, currently with 13 goals and eight assists in Serie A play. In Paris, Verratti is part of a PSG side that hasn’t lost in 25 matches and holds a 24-point lead at the top of the table.

Vincent Kompany set to make Manchester City return this weekend

during the Barclays Premier League match between Manchester City and Arsenal at Etihad Stadium on January 18, 2015 in Manchester, England.
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Vincent Kompany is set to make his first appearance for Manchester City since Boxing Day as the defender has returned from injury.

City’s captain and center-back missed more than six weeks with a calf injury before Christmas, and then reaggravated the injury just minutes into his return at the end of December.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ]

However, Kompany has been back in training and manager Manuel Pellegrini said he is fit to play this weekend when City host Tottenham in a huge top-four matchup.

We’ll see what the starting XI is tomorrow – we’re not just thinking about one player and one game, we’re involved in a lot of competitions. Maybe we have a lot of criticism when we don’t play well but I’m happy with the squad over the whole season.

Every player must play a game when they’re 100%. Vincent has worked for three weeks with no problems. He played 45 minutes in a friendly game against the under-21s and I think he’s ready to play.

Kompany’s presence in the City back-line has been pivotal this season. In the eight Premier League games Kompany has started, City have kept seven clean sheets. In the 18 matches without the big Belgian in the starting lineup, City have kept just five.

[ RELATED: Diego Costa suffers broken nose in Chelsea training ]

With City just a point behind Tottenham, Kompany returns from injury just in time for one of the biggest matches of the season. Tasked with slowing down Harry Kane and Spurs’ high-flying attack, Kompany’s play could prove crucial to the Citizens getting a result.

Premier League Preview: Chelsea vs. Newcastle United

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  • CFC unbeaten under Hiddink (W5, D6)
  • Newcastle have just 6 away goals all season
  • Diego Costa: 6 goals in his last 7 PL matches

Chelsea look to extend their unbeaten streak under Guus Hiddink to 12 matches on Saturday when the Blues host relegation-threatened Newcastle (Watch live, 12:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN and online via Live Extra).

The Blues’ last loss came under Jose Mourinho in December.

[ WATCH LIVE: Stream every PL game via Live Extra ]

Chelsea are up to 13th on the table, currently riding a run of 11 matches unbeaten in all competitions. Guus Hiddink is yet to suffer a loss after taking over for his second stint at Stamford Bridge in December, although draws have kept Chelsea from climbing further up the table. Diego Costa has had the hot-hand with six goals in his last seven appearances, but the Spanish striker will be forced to play with a mask after suffering a broken nose in training.

[ MORE: Hiddink has “no fear” of playing youngsters in Zouma’s absence ]

For Newcastle, the Magpies sit 17th on the table just one point above the drop. Their away form has hurt the club all season, as Steve McClaren‘s men have scored a league-low six goals on the road this year. The Magpies are coming off of a win over West Brom, and supporters will be hoping the club’s new January signings continue to produce. Seydou Doumbia could make his Premier League debut on Saturday, which would be a massive boost to the attack.

What they’re saying

Chelsea manager Guus Hiddink: “The status of being unbeaten sounds good but realistically we would have wished to have more victories, especially at home. And we have an opportunity to do so against Newcastle. They improved their squad with substance, some good signings, and they are more competitive now.”

Newcastle boss Steve McClaren: “In our home games we are starting to get a consistency in our performance and the way we play. We need to start transferring that to our away games and picking up points away from home – we owe it to the fans.”

Prediction

Newcastle have just two wins in their last 18 league matches away from home, and I don’t see that trend changing this weekend. Chelsea have looked a new team with Guus Hiddink in charge, and they stay unbeaten under the Dutchman. Chelsea 2-1 Newcastle United.