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Quick Six: Chelsea’s second halves, Fulham helps Cardiff, and the rest of the headlines from this weekend’s Premier League action

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1. CHELSEA MASTERS OF SECOND HALVES, PREMIER LEAGUE

Half time on Saturday at Stamford Bridge brought plaudits for the way Tim Sherwood had prepared his team. The second half brought reality. Jan Vertonghen’s slip and corresponding back pass allowed Samuel Eto’o to open the scoring in the 56th minute, with a red card three minutes later to Younes Kaboul leading to a penalty conversation from Eden Hazard and a late brace from Demba Ba.

(MORE: Chelsea 4-0 Tottenham Hotspur: Blues blitz Spurs to extend their lead at the top)

Playing down a man, things got out of hand for Spurs, producing a final score that doesn’t reflect the quality they showed over the first 55 minutes. From Chelsea’s point of view, the result builds on the second half dominance they showed at Fulham, where Andre Schürrle scored three times between the 52nd and 69th minute. Go back one earlier, and John Terry’s scoring a stoppage time winner against visiting Everton.

The explanatory mechanism here is José Mourinho; or, more readily, his style. Avoid mistakes, make adjustments, wear down your opponent, and seize your opportunities. No doubt that’s a greatly oversimplified view of what’s happening with the Blues, but over the last three weeks, that’s how life at Chelsea has played out. The Eto’os, Willians, Schurrles that Mourinho brought in have produced an intensity and depth’s led to wins like these.

The end result: Chelsea are now seven points clear in the Premier League, and while much of that is do to having played more games than Liverpool (one), Arsenal (one), and Manchester City (three!), Mourinho is still putting pressure on the chasers. As the season enters its final two months, perfection may be required to prevent Chelsea from re-claiming the title.

source: AP

2. FULHAM SPARKS CARDIFF’S HOPES OF SURVIVAL

Through much of what’s become a nightmare season, Fulham could placate itself with the league’s inability to distance themselves from the bottom dwelling Cottagers. After Sunday’s loss in Cardiff, however, that’s no longer the case. Even if Felix Magath’s team wins next week against visiting Newcastle, they’ll still be in last place. Important side note: The last time Fulham won a Premier League game, True Detective wasn’t on television.

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

This has gotten really bad. On form as well as record, the Premier League had two clearly inferior teams before Saturday’s kickoff at Cardiff City Stadium, yet Ole Gunnar Solksjær’s team proved a clear step ahead of their relegation rivals. Two goals from Steven Caulker and an own goal from Sascha Reither sent Fulham to a 3-1 defeat – a result that leaves them five points from safety.

The obligatory caveat is the ‘one hot stretch’ rule, but how is that stretch going to come? Or, as important, who cares enough to fight for those results? Fulham looks is a collection of players already looking toward their next moves, and perhaps rightly so. Almost all of them have the talent to hook up with another Premier League team. Together, however, they’re about to end the Cottagers’ 13-season run in the top flight.

3. WEST BROM GIVES MAN UNITED REASON TO SMILE

That’s more like it, was David Moyes’ reaction after his Red Devils took a 3-0 win out of the Hawthorns, but given how poorly the Baggies have played under Pepe Mel, the result looks more obligatory than a sign of progress. With West Brom slipping closer and closer to the drop (and a series of games in hand for Sunderland looming large), the hasty dismissal of Steve Clarke looks like a terrible idea. The backbone the former boss had in place could have carried West Brom into the summer, when Richard Garlick could have made a more prudent move.

(MORE: West Bromwich Albion 0-3 Manchester United: Baggies in real danger after loss (video))

With that in mind, we should hold off praising Manchester United too much. Yes, in accordance with a long-standing tradition was put in place in August, we have to overreact to every United result, but 28 games into the season, the Red Devils have a well-established record of slightly above-averageness. Likewise, West Brom has an ever-growing collection of performances that hint it’s barely a Premier League-quality club.

In that context, a 3-0 for the Red Devils isn’t surprise, particularly considering West Brom have been trended downward ever since Mel came on board. Whereas their entire body of work hints the Baggies are among the league’s 17 best, recent returns say this is one of the first division’s worst teams. They’re down to 10 games to prove otherwise.

(MORE: David Moyes on Manchester United’s win vs. West Brom: “That’s more like it”)

4. JON WALTERS GOOD; JOHN WALTERS BAD

Walters’s foul on Alexander Tettey seemed more instinctual than a sign of maliciousness, but contrary to contrarian thinking, some soccer instincts can be rather dangerous, and danger is something players are asked to avoid. When the Republic or Ireland international saw straight red in the 78th minute at Carrow Road, I sympathized, knowing I would also recoil and try to protect myself in the same situation. I also know that a recoil that leaves my spikes in another man’s g will send me walking. Stoke finished the match with 10.

Thankfully for Mark Hughes’s club, Walters had just blasted a penalty conversion past John Ruddy, pulling the Potters even with the Canaries. After twelve minutes of holding off there hosts, and Stoke City had another result. Though Norwich had been terrible in its previous match, losing at Aston Villa, 4-1, Stoke City isn’t beyond seeing the value in a road result. With a point at Carrow Road, Stoke have only lost one in six, a run that’s pushed them to 12th in the Premier League.

(MORE: Norwich City 1-1 Stoke City: Result helps neither side feel safer)

This is the best Stoke could have hoped for in their first season without Tony Pulis. Much of the squad still reflects their old boss’s style and preferences, meaning Hughes was always destined to go through a transition season. If that transition means mid-table safety with minimal relegation drama, break out the bunting and book the aircraft carrier: Mission accomplished.

5. J-ROD GOAL ENOUGH FOR SAINTS AT PALACE

The middle of the season has been about adjusting expectations around a Southampton team that teased Champions League relevance in the season’s opening months. The team’s fall to ninth place has left the Saints a relatively forgotten side, albeit one that continues to play some of the most attractive soccer in the Premier League. Not going to Europe but also not battling the drop, Southampton is left to play out of string of games that will serve as Rickie Lambert, Adam Lallana, Jay Rodriguez, and Luke Shaw’s auditions for World Cup 2014.

That’s not to say the team’s no longer capable of strong results. On Saturday, at a Crystal Palace seem seemingly capable of drawing anybody at anytime (see: Swansea, last weekend), Mauricio Pochettino’s side got a well-earned goal from Rodríguez, whose ability to fight through Julian Speroni showcased one of the individual talents that have distinguished Southampton from the league’s bottom half. Able to hold the Eagles at arms’ length for the final 53 minutes, Southampton snapped their two-game losing run, defeating Palace, 1-0.

(MORE: Crystal Palace 0-1 Southampton: Rodriguez’s bizarre strike seals Saints’ win)

Given Pulis’s arrival at Palace, Saturday’s was a result that shouldn’t be taken for granted. Teams with more talent than the Saints have struggled with the refurbished Eagles, yet Southampton were able to seal their result early. They may not be competing for anything, but the Saints are still showing signs of progress.

source: AP

6. FA cup conflicts? not a problem, unless you’re Arsenal

Manchester City was either terrible, has a very specific Wigan problem, or fell victim to a Latics team that is secretly upper-Premier League quality. In terms of the first division’s title race, however, Sunday’s upset loss to Wigan has a huge silver lining. Where fixture congestion posed a problem for the Citizens’ quest to claim a second Premier League title, the team will soon be down to one competition. No FA Cup semifinals. No final. Likely, no more Champions League (already trailing 2-0 ahead of a trip to Barcelona). In a short period of time, Manuel Pellegrini will be able to leverage his club’s depth to pursue their main goal.

Arsenal, however, remains in the race for the FA Cup, their emphatic, 4-1 victory Saturday over Everton making the Gunners favorites to claim their first honor since 2005. While memories of the 2011 League Cup will keep Arsenal fans from being too assumptive, their club will be heavy expected to move past Wigan next mont. Survive those giant killers, and Hull or Sheffield United will meet them in the final.

Kaka hoping to stay in Orlando beyond 2017

ORLANDO, FL - MARCH 08:  Kaka #10 of Orlando City SC dribbles the ball during an MLS soccer match between the New York City FC and the Orlando City SC at the Orlando Citrus Bowl on March 8, 2015 in Orlando, Florida. (Photo by Alex Menendez/Getty Images)
Photo by Alex Menendez/Getty Images)
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Kaka is enjoying life in Florida.

The former Ballon d’Or winner is hoping to stay with Orlando City SC beyond the end of his contract, which runs its course after the 2017 season.

[ MORE: Real Madrid now winless in three ]

Kaka has been very good for the Lions, scoring 19 goals and 15 assists in 53 total matches. Reports had said he’s skip town after the third year of the deal, but Kaka refutes that idea.

From MLSSoccer.com:

“A misunderstanding because I am very happy here,” Kaká told reporters at MLS Media Day on Tuesday. “I had a three year contract, so this is the last year under this contract, but my idea is to stay here.

“Of course we never know what can happen at the end of the season or during the season, but my idea for now is to stay in Orlando and stay in the league.”

Kaka turns 35 in April, but has been consistently good even if injuries kept him to 24 MLS contests last season. If he puts forth a similar season, there’s little reason for Orlando — or another team — not to take a chance on Ricardo Izecson dos Santos Leite.

Gabriel Jesus cleared, could make Man City debut

SAO PAULO, BRAZIL - NOVEMBER 20:  Gabriel Jesus of Palmeiras runs with the ball during the match between Palmeiras and Botafogo for the Brazilian Series A 2016 at Allianz Parque on November 20, 2016 in Sao Paulo, Brazil.  (Photo by Friedemann Vogel/Getty Images)
Photo by Friedemann Vogel/Getty Images
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Gabriel Jesus could go straight into Manchester City’s starting lineup.

The 19-year-old Brazilian has finally been cleared to suit up for the English side after finishing a title-winning campaign with Palmeiras.

With four goals in six caps for the Brazil national team and an Olympic gold medal with their U-23 side, Jesus is among the hottest prospects in the world.

[ MORE: City fifth in “Money League” ]

City is struggling, and the fresh injection of attacking talent could be music to the ears of boss Pep Guardiola (who, fun fact, celebrates his 46th birthday today).

From the Manchester Evening News:

“He’s a great player. Going to Europe is a good thing for a player. He will grow quicker, he will start to understand football in another way and also be respected inside the football scene.

“I guess that for Gabriel Jesus it was a good thing to leave Brazilian soccer, he did everything he had could in [Brazil]. He’s going to a very difficult, competitive [type of football] but I think that he can be successful.”

Jesus had 21 goals in 46 matches this season with Palmeiras.

Casemiro: “Real Madrid aren’t ever allowed to lose”

MADRID, SPAIN - JANUARY 18:  Henrique Casemiro of Real Madrid heads the ball against Daniel Wass of Celta de Vigo during the Copa del Rey Quarter Final, First Leg match between Real Madrid CF and  Celta Vigo at Bernabeu on January 18, 2017 in Madrid, Spain.  (Photo by Denis Doyle/Getty Images)
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The pressure at Real Madrid can be overwhelming, and the players who thrive there generally have thick skin and short memories.

They also take losses pretty seriously.

That goes for the manager as well, as both Real Madrid boss Zinedine Zidane and Casemiro have reacted to Real’s third-straight non-win in serious fashion.

[ MORE: Real no longer No. 1 in money ]

Remember, this is coming after the first match of the “slump” — a 3-3 draw with Sevilla — was the final match of a world record 40-match unbeaten run.

Casemiro, whose record in the Real Madrid lineup is as good as anyone’s, said this (via Marca):

“Yes, it’s worrying to lose again,” he said just after the full-time whistle. “Real Madrid aren’t ever allowed to lose. The defeat against Sevilla has hurt us.”

And if you want to tell Casemiro to relax, that only one of those matches was in league play and the club still leads the table by a point with a match-in-hand on nearly everyone… well… enter Zidane.

“I’m the one responsible and I must find the solution,” he said in his post-match press conference. “I wasn’t surprised by the way Celta played, as we knew that they’re a team that can really hurt you. I’m not worried, although it’s a bad moment. We know that we can overcome it and we are going to overcome it.”

I’m far from a Real Madrid fan, and you can credit Florentino Perez’s ideas and the hanky-waving fans for a lot of that, but it’s impossible not admire how seriously Real takes the business of winning. And maybe, just maybe, the fan and board expectations occasionally help the squad.

Run-up shootouts, per-player match limits on FIFA’s agenda

Marco van Basten, Dutch football manager and former football player, poses for a photo on the green carpet while arriving prior to the The Best - FIFA Football Awards 2016 ceremony held at the Swiss TV studio in Zurich, Switzerland, Monday, Jan. 9, 2017.  (Walter Bieri/Keystone via AP)
Walter Bieri/Keystone via AP
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Restricting players to 60 games a year. Replacing penalty shootouts with eight-second run-ups. Introducing orange cards to send players off for 10 minutes. Scrapping offside.

Former AC Milan and Netherlands forward Marco van Basten is using his role as technical director at FIFA to propose a series of changes to soccer to stir a debate.

[ MORE: Costa back for Chelsea ]

Rather than using his job to meddle, Van Basten highlights the need to preserve soccer as the world’s most popular sport.

“I have spoken to a lot of coaches and players,” Van Basten said in an interview with The Associated Press. “We have to promote quality instead of quantity. We are playing too much football now. We have to defend players because they have to play so much and are not fresh or fit anymore.

“That’s bad for the quality of the game. Even in June when the big tournaments are played players cannot perform to their maximum because now if players are really successful they can play up to 75 official games in the year. I think that’s a bit too much and maybe they should stop at 55 or 60.”

Although FIFA will expand the World Cup from 32 to 48 teams from 2026, that won’t burden players with any additional games. Instead, clubs sides would have to explore reducing the number of fixtures, potentially by reducing the number of lucrative friendly games played on tours.

[ MORE: Real Madrid now winless in three ]

“That’s all for money but we have to think about football and not money,” said Van Basten, who was hired by FIFA in September. “For a lot of clubs that’s not easy. But there is enough money in football.

“(Cristiano) Ronaldo and (Lionel) Messi are earning so much money. If they are earning a little bit less but performing better that’s good for football.”

Asked about countries like England or France no longer playing two cup competitions alongside their league fixtures, Van Basten said: “In my opinion that should be an interesting discussion.”

Van Basten knows some of radical changes he proposed to the AP could make traditionalists uneasy. But the 1992 FIFA world player of the year wants to ensure the global game has a say on its future.

“We should not just let the game be organized by those with the money,” he said from FIFA HQ in Zurich. “The big clubs like Paris Saint-Germain, Manchester City and Real Madrid who have everything.”

“In football you need opponents, competition because if you are alone with two or three clubs controlling everything you don’t have any competition.”

Here are some potential changes to soccer proposed by Van Basten:

PENALTY SHOOTOUTS

Rather than burdening players with an additional 30 minutes of action when cup games are level after 90 minutes, Van Basten is suggesting going straight to penalties.

“I think everybody is pretty tired after 120 minutes,” Van Basten said.

Now penalties are a test of nerves with players having one chance to beat the goalkeeper from the penalty spot.

“Maybe the player should start 25 meters from goal and then you can dribble the goalkeeper or shoot early,” he said. “But you have to make a goal within eight seconds. It’s more skill and less luck. It’s maybe a bit more spectacular. It’s more football but it’s still nervous for the player.”

NO OFFSIDE

Scrapping the offside rule could make soccer more visually appealing, Van Basten advises.

“I think it can be very interesting watching a game without offside,” he said. “Football now is already looking a lot like handball with nine or ten defenders in front of the goal. It’s difficult for the opposition to score a goal as it’s very difficult to create something in the small pieces of space they give you.

“So if you play without offside you get more possibilities to score a goal.”

FOUR QUARTERS

Soccer is increasingly intense and grueling, with a single 15-minute break between 45-minute halves.

“We are trying to help the game, to let the game develop in a good way,” Van Basten said. “We want to have a game which is honest, which is dynamic, a nice spectacle so we should try to do everything to help that process.”

Introducing four quarters could be advantageous.

“The coach can have three times with his players during the game,” Van Basten said.

SINBINS

Now there is no middle ground between players being shown a yellow card and receiving a red card and then being removed for the rest of the game.

“Maybe an orange card could be shown that sees a player go out of the game for 10 minutes for incidents that are not heavy enough for a red card,” Van Basten said.

Such an instance could be when a player commits repeat fouls that didn’t warrant yellow cards or obstruct opponents. Five misdemeanors could earn a player a place in a sin bin for 10 minutes, Van Basten said.

NEXT STEPS

Any changes to the laws of the game cannot be forced through by Van Basten, however close he is to FIFA President Gianni Infantino. He said he wants to listen to the views of world before any proposals are taken to the game’s law-making body, The International Football Association Board. FIFA controls half of the eight votes on IFAB, with the other four retained by the British associations.

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