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.

Mexico captain Guardado suffers hamstring injury

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With the World Cup still half a year away, there’s plenty of time to heal from injuries and get the body right after tweaking things during the club season.

And yet, there will still be some concern among Mexico fans.

Team captain Andres Guardado suffered a hamstring tear, his club Real Betis confirmed on Monday, and is expected to miss 3-4 weeks. That’s nothing to write home about when it comes to preparing for the big tournament, but with Guardado 31 years old and struggling with injuries in recent years, Mexico fans will be keenly aware that hamstring injuries can return with a vengeance if not given the right time to heal.

Guardado has shown his age in recent times, not necessarily with his play on the field, which has been critical to his country, but with his fitness. Guardado has just four full 90 minute performances for Mexico dating back to October of 2016, missing time with ankle, leg, and now hamstring injuries in that span.

The 31-year-old has had a fine season so far for Real Betis, scoring one goal and assisting six while appearing in all 15 La Liga matches for the club thus far. The club sits 12th in the La Liga table with 18 points.

Guardado will be fine with plenty of time to spare, but if not fully healed properly, there’s always the risk that muscle injuries can flare back up, and Mexico fans will hope that their captain’s club gives him plenty of rest to recover.

Mark Hughes wants Stoke City to “suck it up”

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Mark Hughes is under fire at Stoke City with the Potters firmly entrenched in the relegation battle, and with that he’s charging his players, staff, and himself to gut the rest of the season out.

With Stoke heading to Turf Moor to take on Burnley, they sit just three points above the drop. The players were faced with jeers from angry fans at the train station following this past weekend’s 5-1 disaster against Tottenham. The fiery Hughes is hoping to use this jarring moment to jolt his squad.

[ PREVIEW: Tuesday’s Premier League action ]

“That is still resonating. It’s good we have a game because it is still fresh in their ears probably, and they can use it as a motivating factor,” said Hughes during his pre-match press conference.

“You either suck it up and do ­something about it or you go under, and we can’t accept players like that. I don’t feel we have players like that.”

With managers nowadays often reaching into the excuses barrel as they hope to save their own skins, Hughes refuses to do just that, instead placing the decision firmly on the players shoulders, telling them they are the only ones who can save the club.

“Maybe some hadn’t ­confronted that before – but sometimes you need a reality check, and understand how our results and ­performances affect people,” Hughes said. “When people criticize you, you have to grow a thick skin in this industry. If you don’t, you’re in the wrong place.”

Louis van Gaal calls Mourinho’s United “far more boring”

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Louis Van Gaal has picked just the right time to pipe up.

The former Manchester United manager, who took flak while in charge for his side being hideous to watch, has now taken shots of his own at his successor Jose Mourinho, kicking Manchester United while they’re down after a 2-1 derby defeat at home.

The Dutchman told Fox Sports Netherlands, “If you ask me how did I do at United, I will say it was my best year ever, given the circumstances I was working under. We played football that was quite alright. But it’s not football that is appreciated in England. And yet, right now, looking at United, I have to conclude Mourinho is not being criticized while it’s far more boring football.”

[ PREVIEW: Premier League Tuesday matches, including Chelsea vs. Huddersfield ]

Van Gaal was blasted consistently for playing a boring style, especially in front of the home crowd, and now Mourinho is being criticized for the same concept. Mourinho was denounced for similar reasons while in charge of Chelsea, but with the club winning multiple titles under his leadership, the noise was always less while the team was winning. With Manchester United still unable to crack the top 4, Mourinho is feeling the heat.

“What United produce now is defensive football,” van Gaal said. “I always played attacking football. The proof is that the opposition were always parking the bus. They don’t do that now because Jose Mourinho plays so defensive.”

To van Gaal’s point, Manchester United is seventh in the Premier League in possession, holding 51% possession this season. They were out-possessed by Manchester City 65-35 at Old Trafford over the weekend. Meanwhile, van Gaal’s last full season with Manchester United, the 2015/16 season, saw the Red Devils hold 54%, which ranked third in the Premier League, just a percentage point behind leaders Arsenal. However, van Gaal’s United ranked 15th in the Premier League in total shots, while Mourinho’s United this season ranks sixth at this point.

Van Gaal made sure to point out he prefers their cross-town rivals.

“I would rather watch City play than United. You need quality in a squad and it’s clear City have a better squad.”

Conte blames fatigue for dip in Chelsea form

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Antonio Conte has figured out what is plaguing his Chelsea side as they sit 14 points back of Premier League leaders Manchester City.

“I think when you play every three days, it is impossible to have a training session and to work on the physical aspects,” Conte said in his pre-match press conference as the Blues get set to play Huddersfield Town on Tuesday. “It’s impossible. It’s impossible because you have to prepare with the players for a game every three days.”

Chelsea has yet to find itself eliminated from a single competition, drawn against Barcelona in the Champions League while navigating fixtures across all four competitions.

And yet, this is nothing new for Conte. The Blues boss is more than familiar with fixture congestion, having taken charge of Juventus and regularly competing at a high level on multiple fronts. In 2012/13, he won the Serie A title, won the Supercoppa Italia, and reached the quarterfinals of the Champions League.

However, this is new for Conte at Chelsea. Last season, the Blues did not take part in a European competition thanks to their disastrous season the previous year. While they reached the FA Cup final, they were knocked out of the EFL Cup in the 4th round.

“We have to try to do our best,” Conte said. “For sure, some players can be tired, that’s normal because some players are playing from this summer and our tours in China and Singapore. It’s normal. But I repeat we have to find the best solution. We have to find more rotations. I’m doing this, we will try and do our best with hunger and desire. We will fight.”

As an example, Conte said Alvaro Morata will miss the match on Tuesday against Huddersfield Town due to fatigue, with the Spaniard battling a slight back injury. “Morata is out. He is a bit tired and he has a problem in his back.