Steven Caulker Cardiff

Cardiff City 3-1 Fulham: Bluebirds win the relegation dogfight

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New manager, same results for Fulham, who still sit dead last in the Premier League table after losing 3-1 to Cardiff City. The Bluebirds aren’t out of the relegation battle yet, considering Sunderland will have three games in hand by the end of the weekend, but the win should boost morale – and help Ole Gunnar Solskjaer rest easier at night.

As almost everyone with even one eye on the Premier League expected, the first half between Cardiff and Fulham was rather dire. Although the visitors have the worst defense in the league, the hosts hadn’t scored in their last four league matches, and boasted just 19 goals from 28 games. So it came as little surprise that, although the Fulham back line seemed to be constantly struggling, the Bluebirds just couldn’t capitalize.

Until injury time rolled around, that is. Maarten Stekelenburg, with so little to do for the first 45 minutes, had just saved a shot from Kenwyne Jones. Fulham were unable to clear their lines following a corner, and this time the goalkeeper wasn’t so lucky. Craig Noone put the ball back into the center, where it deflected off Sascha Riether, bouncing into the path of Steven Caulker. The Bluebirds captain needed just a touch to knock it into the back of the net.

(MORE: Premier League Roundup – Chelsea extend lead, Man United click, huge win for Cardiff)

Fulham came out after halftime looking much livelier, and Lewis Holtby quickly produced a save from David Marshall. The Spurs loanee got on the end of a cushioned header from Cauley Woodrow, who was marking his first appearance in the Fulham kit, but Marshall did well to preserve Cardiff’s lead.

But the Bluebirds hadn’t kept a clean sheet in their last thirteen league matches. So, in a script almost so predictable it could write itself, Fulham managed to find an equalizer. Johnny Heitinga got on the end of a corner, flicking on for Holtby. The midfielder needed just a tap to score his first for the Cottagers.

It was just ten minutes before the hosts pulled ahead once more, the captain bagging a brace. After a series of corners, Caulker, unnoticed by the hapless Fulham defense, rose up to head in his second.

Fulham’s misery was compounded a few minutes later, when Riether, who’d inadvertently set Caulker up for the first goal, put the ball into the back of his own net. Stekelenburg  did well to keep out a shot from Jordan Mutch, but the rebound hit the Fulham defender and bounced back into the net.

Felix Magath tried to stage a comeback by replacing the young Woodrow with veteran striker Darren Bent, but, despite fighting for their survival, the Cottagers could barely threaten. Kostas Mitroglou, unimpressive in his Premier League debut, put a tame shot at Marshall, followed moments later by an equally tame effort from Bent.

Cardiff City: Marshall; John, Caulker, Turner (Theophile-Catherine 90) John; Medel (Eikrem 81), Kim, Mutch; Noone, Jones, Campbell (Daehli 72)

Goals: Caulker 45′, 67′; Riether o.g. 71′

Fulham: Stekelenburg; Riether, Heitinga, Hangeland, Riise (Kacaniklic 45); Dejagah (Karagounis 50), Sidwell, Holtby, Richardson; Mitroglou, Woodrow (Bent 76)

Goals: Holtby 59′

Klopp hopes for speedy solution in club, fans’ ticket-price dispute

Liverpool's fans wave flags during the English League Cup semifinal second leg soccer match between Liverpool and Stoke City at Anfield stadium in Liverpool, England, Tuesday, Jan. 26, 2016. (AP Photo/Jon Super)
AP Photo/Jon Super
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From his time at Borussia Dortmund, Jurgen Klopp is used to a much more positive, family-like, everyone-pulling-in-the-same-direction atmosphere at his club of employment, so the present goings-on at Liverpool understandably have the Reds’ first-year manager feeling more than a little uneasy.

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Saturday’s late 2-2 draw with Sunderland wasn’t the first time Liverpool fans have headed for the exit before the final whistle, leaving Klopp feeling all alone, but it was the first time the fans have departed from Anfield early in a pre-planned, organized manner (Klopp missed the game himself with appendicitis). The Anfield faithful didn’t walk out on 77 minutes due to their team’s poor performance — Liverpool were 2-0 ahead at the time — but in protest of steadily rising ticket prices, which were unveiled at $111 per game to sit in the 132-year-old stadium’s new main stand next season.

Klopp, coming from the Bundesliga, where a season ticket at clubs the size of Bayern Munich and Dortmund doesn’t cost much more than a single-game ticket at many Premier League grounds, understands the fans’ frustration. At the end of the day, though, he works for the club, which is why he just wants the whole thing settled quickly, for the sake of his squad — quotes from the BBC:

“It’s not what we want. What I know is everyone in the club has a big interest in finding a solution for this. We don’t want people to leave the stadium before the game is finished.”

An LFC TV appearance by Liverpool chief executive Ian Ayre, in which he was expected to answer fan-submitted questions, was consequently canceled on Monday due to the ongoing dispute.

West Ham want Payet to sign new contract for fear of losing him this summer

Dimitri Payet, West Ham United FC (AP Photo/Frank Augstein)
AP Photo/Frank Augstein
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Dimitri Payet is going to be a red-hot commodity during this summer’s transfer window, there’s no doubt about it.

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Given he’s currently contracted to one of the Premier League’s “smaller” clubs — in comparison to some of the giants which are bound to be interested — West Ham United, there’s a decent-to-good chance he could be wearing a different club’s shirt come August. Especially if the 28-year-old attacker shows up and shows out at this summer’s European Championship in his native France.

If I can foresee the interest in Payet, then so too can the executives at West Ham, which is why manager Slaven Bilic took to the press on Monday to convey his desire for Payet to consider signing a new, increased contract at his earliest convenience — quotes from the Guardian:

“We are moving, the club is moving, with the new stadium, with the revenue and everything. We have to move and the most important move is to keep your best players and to add some new players who are needed and Dimitri Payet is our best player — I have no problem whatsoever to say that. Of course, I would love to have him happy, long term, at the club.”

Of course West Ham want Payet to sign a new deal immediately — doing so would accomplish two things in the club’s eyes: 1) increase the likelihood he remains at the club next season, or 2) insure the club receives a higher transfer fee for the player if he leaves in the summer anyway. The more total money remaining on his West Ham contract, the more they can demand of a prospective buyer.

[ MORE: Ronaldo commits himself to Real Madrid through 2018 ]

From Payet’s side — unless he has absolutely zero desire to move to a club like Liverpool, Chelsea or Manchester United, where he’d likely be paid close to $200,000 per week — he’d be crazy to sign a new contract at this point. Not only would it make a move this summer more difficult, but a strong showing at EURO 2016 could be worth another $15,000 or $20,000 per week on a new contract with West Ham (his current contract is rumored to be close to $100,000 per week).

With as many as five seasons still remaining on his current contract (a one-year club option can be exercised at any point), and his stock perhaps at an all-time high, the next six months could hold Payet’s last chance to get really, really paid before he hits the downside of his career.

USWNT players’ union responds in USSF lawsuit

FILE - In this Sunday, July 5, 2015 file photo, the United States Women's National Team celebrates with the trophy after they beat Japan 5-2 in the FIFA Women's World Cup soccer championship in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. The U.S. Soccer Federation’s original lawsuit against the union for its champion women’s national team has been sealed after the governing body realized it had disclosed the home addresses and email accounts of many players, Thursday, Feb. 4, 2016.(AP Photo/Elaine Thompson, File)
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(AP) — The union that represents the Women’s World Cup-winning American national team opposed an expedited schedule in the lawsuit filed against it by the U.S. Soccer Federation last week, insisting no collective bargaining agreement exists.

The federation sued in an attempt to establish it has a contract with the U.S. Women’s National Soccer Team Players Association that runs through this year’s Olympics until Dec. 31. The union maintains the memorandum of understanding agreed to in March 2013 can be terminated at any time.

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The USSF filed a motion Friday in U.S. District Court in Chicago asking for an expedited schedule, and the submitted opposition papers Monday that claim “facts asserted in the motion are nowhere near accurate and are hotly disputed.”

The union also maintains the USSF knew about the disagreement since July but did nothing about it.

An initial status conference is set for April 4.

Lionel Messi to undergo tests for lingering kidney problems

FC Barcelona's Lionel Messi holds the ball during a quarterfinal, second leg, Copa del Rey soccer match against Athletic Bilbao at the Camp Nou stadium in Barcelona, Spain, Wednesday, Jan. 27, 2016. (AP Photo/Manu Fernandez)
AP Photo/Manu Fernandez
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BARCELONA, Spain (AP) Barcelona says Lionel Messi is to undergo medical tests to assess a recurrence of kidney problems.

[ MORE: Saturday’s La Liga roundup | Barca win on Sunday

Messi missed the Club World Cup semifinal in December due to a renal colic, an abdominal ailment often related to the presence of kidney stones within renal ducts.

Barcelona says in a statement Monday that the tests to be conducted by Tuesday at the latest, are “to assess the evolution of the kidney problem he suffered last December.”

[ MORE: Champions League returns next week — KO round matchups ]

The statement says Messi will resume training with the squad on Wednesday, when Barcelona travels to Valencia for the return leg of the Copa del Rey semifinals in which it carries a 7-0 lead.