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.

FIFA subjects 2026 Morocco World Cup bid to fresh scrutiny

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Morocco’s World Cup bid is facing fresh scrutiny this week with the arrival of another delegation from FIFA after an initial task force found deficiencies in the proposals for the 2026 tournament.

In a downbeat conclusion to the visit by the FIFA inspectors last week, Morocco’s bid leader acknowledged it had to improve the quality of the submission made to FIFA in March because inadequacies were identified by football’s governing body.

[ MORE: UCL semifinals predictions ]

The previously unplanned second inspection of Morocco is an indication of the more rigorous process introduced by FIFA following criticism in 2010 that World Cups were awarded to the riskiest nations in 2018 (Russia) and 2022 (Qatar).

There will also be closer scrutiny of human rights of the bidders before the vote on June 13 when Morocco is currently due to be taking on a joint challenge from the United States, Canada and Mexico.

The Associated Press revealed last week Morocco did not declare its anti-LGBT law to FIFA in the human rights risk assessment included in the bid book. The documents – along with the North American submission – will now be scrutinized for any gaps by human rights experts.

“That process involves an expert third-party assessment of the robustness of the human rights content of both bids that will directly inform the administration’s own evaluation,” Rachel Davis, who sits on FIFA’s human rights advisory board, told the AP.

“We are confident that the process will result in a fair assessment of the human rights situation in all four countries involved in the bids, and a roadmap for how to deal with any deficiencies that FIFA will then require the successful bidder to commit to.”

Davis, who is managing director of the Shift human rights organization, said an evaluation of the human rights in the bidding nations will be included in a report to the FIFA Council, which will also assess the verdict of the evaluation task force. A bid with low scores can be blocked by the council from advancing to a vote of up to 207 football nations at the FIFA Congress on June 13.

While Morocco has said it needs to spend almost $16 billion on infrastructure for the 48-team World Cup, including building or renovating all 14 stadiums, North American does not require any tournament-specific building work. Morocco bid president Moulay Hafid Elalamy said at the end of the FIFA inspection that officials “made some remarks on the conditions of some of the stadiums.”

The new batch of technical staff being deployed from FIFA HQ to Morocco did not make a similar follow-up visit to North America after the task force inspected the rival bid’s facilities this month.

“Following the visit of the 2026 bid evaluation task force to Morocco last week, it was decided to have an additional working visit this week to complement the initial analysis of the task force and clarify some aspects of the bid,” FIFA told the AP.

Rob Harris is at http://www.twitter.com/RobHarris and http://www.facebook.com/RobHarrisReports

More AP World Cup coverage: http://www.apnews.com/tag/WorldCup

Watch Live: Everton v. Newcastle

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Everton host Newcastle United on Monday (Watch live, 3 p.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com) with the Toffees and Magpies both sitting pretty in midtable.

[ LIVE: Stream Everton-Newcastle ]

Sam Allardyce and Rafael Benitez have both been around the block a few times but at the moment Allardyce is under pressure and Benitez is working miracles with four wins on the spin as the newly-promoted Magpies have stayed solid defensively all season.

In team news Everton start Tosun, Walcott and Bolasie in attack with Wayne Rooney in midfield.

Newcastle make one change with Islam Slimani making his first start for the Magpies as he comes in for Dwight Gayle.

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UEFA Champions League semifinal predictions

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With the semifinals of the UEFA Champions League to kick off over the next few days, let’s take a look at both games and predict which teams will make it to the final in Kiev on May 26.

[ MORE: Champions League scores

Liverpool or Roma? Real Madrid or Bayern Munich?

Here’s the lowdown as two eagerly anticipated games take center stage across Europe.


Liverpool vs. AS Roma
First leg: Apr. 24, 2:45 p.m. ET at Anfield
Second leg: May 2, 2:45 p.m. ET at Stadio Olimpico

This should be one heck of a tie with defending optional for both teams but both have very different ways of playing. Jurgen Klopp will unleash the fluid trio of Mohamed Salah, Sadio Mane and Roberto Firmino on an often brittle Roma defense but the Italian giants have a giant in their own up top in the shape of Edin Dzeko. How Virgil Van Dijk and Liverpool’s defense deal with the threat of Dzeko will likely decide the outcome of this game. Liverpool will look to feed off the famous Anfield atmosphere to wrack up a big first leg lead before they head to Roma for Leg 2, and I fancy Salah to blow his old team away in the first leg. Liverpool to advance 4-2 on aggregate.

Bayern Munich vs. Real Madrid
First leg: Apr. 25, 2:45 p.m. ET at Allianz Arena
Second leg: May 1, 2:45 p.m. ET at Santiago Bernabeu

A proper heavyweight clash as Bayern and Real do battle knowing that whoever wins will be the favorites in the final. Cristiano Ronaldo is in the form of his life (again) after a slow start to this season and Zinedine Zidane’s side made hard work of it against Juventus in the last round but are on course for a third-straight UCL trophy. As for Bayern, they have been in imperious form and you feel like Robert Lewandowski can get the better of Real’s center backs. Expect this to be a tight game with extremely high quality from both teams. Real being at home in the second leg is a big advantage. Real Madrid to advance 3-2 on aggregate. 

Cologne’s Hector extends contract despite likely relegation

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COLOGNE, Germany (AP) Germany defender Jonas Hector has shunned reported interest from Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund by extending his contract with Cologne – despite the club’s almost certain relegation from the Bundesliga.

Cologne, eight points from safety with three games remaining, says its 27-year-old captain has signed a two-year extension to 2023 instead of using a release clause in his contract.

Hector, who has been at the club since 2010, says, “It wouldn’t have been a problem to switch to another club after this season but it didn’t feel right for me. I belong to Cologne and want to tackle the new season with the team and the fans behind us.”

Cologne sporting director Armin Veh says Hector’s decision is, “a great signal for the team, the club and our fans.”