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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.

MLS Snapshot: New York City FC 2-2 Orlando City SC (video)

NEW YORK, NY - MARCH 15:  David Villa #7 of New York City FC tries to keep the ball as Scott Caldwell #6 of New England Revolution defends during the inaugural game of the New York City FC at Yankee Stadium on March 15, 2015 in the Bronx borough of New York City.The New York City FC defeated the New England Revolution 2-0.  (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
Photo by Elsa/Getty Images
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The game in 100 words (or less): “It’s not how many times you get knocked down; it’s how many times you get back up.” If that is indeed the way the world works, New York City FC will be given every opportunity to prove themselves again and again and again. When they’re not losing 7-0 to their rivals, they’re blowing two-goal leads (and the simplest of chances to go 3-0 up — check out the videos below for more on that) inside the final 20 minutes at home a week later. Orlando City SC have made a habit of scoring stoppage-time goals this season (Sunday’s 94th-minute equalizer in the Bronx was their fifth), so you’ll have to excuse all of us who wholeheartedly expected NYCFC to snatch this 2-2 draw from the jaws of victory. With the draw, NYCFC remain fourth in the Eastern Conference, a point back of the New York Red Bulls and Montreal Impact for second and third, while Orlando City inch to level on points with sixth-place Toronto FC.

[ MORE: USMNT 4-0 Bolivia | Three things we learned | Player ratings ]

Three Four Five moments that mattered

42′ — Brilliant heads home not long before halftime — Everything seemed fine for NYCFC

66′ — Pirlo’s beautiful ball sets Villa up for 2-0 — Class. Pure class from everyone involved. Everything is fine.

70′ — Villa sends his PK effort sky high — What more can you say? Everything is still probably fine.

72′ — Baptista fires low to make it 2-1 — Villa left the door wide open, and Julio Baptista was quick to walk right through two minutes later. Everything is less fine.

90+4′ — Molino heads home with no time left — As soon as Villa missed the penalty, it was always going to end like this. Nothing is fine.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s MLS coverageStandings | Stats | Schedule ]

Man of the match: David Villa (for a variety of reasons)

Goalscorers: Brilliant (42′), Villa (66′), Baptista (72′), Molino (90+4′)

Klinsmann excited about USMNT’s promising youngsters ahead of Copa America

COLUMBUS, OH - MARCH 29:  Head Coach Jurgen Klinsmann of the United States Men's National Team watches his team play against Guatemala during the FIFA 2018  World Cup qualifier on March 29, 2016 at MAPFRE Stadium in Columbus, Ohio. The United States defeated Guatemala 4-0.  (Photo by Jamie Sabau/Getty Images)
Photo by Jamie Sabau/Getty Images
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KANSAS CITY, Kan. — The U.S. national team’s last 135 minutes of game time — the final 45 minutes of a 1-0 victory over Ecuador, followed by Saturday’s 4-0 dismantling of Bolivia here at Children’s Mercy Park — have supporters across the country harboring unfamiliar feelings these days: cautious optimism ahead of this week’s 2016 Copa America Centenario.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s USMNT coverage ]

It’s the best three-half stretch Jurgen Klinsmann’s side has enjoyed (against top-80 opposition, according FIFA world rankings) since … well, come to think of it, I’m not really sure when. In the last 24 months, the Yanks have lost away to Guatemala, drawn away to Trinidad & Tobago, lost the CONCACAF Cup to Mexico on home soil, finished fourth at the Gold Cup on home soil, and wrapped up 2014 with just one win in their last eight games of the calendar year, including three of four World Cup fixtures.

(When you write it all out like that, it sounds really bad. It’s been really bad.)

Yet, here stands the USMNT, five days from kicking off the centennial edition of Copa America, and a few pieces are beginning to fall into place for Klinsmann and Co. I waxed poetically about Saturday’s victory and all the positives it highlighted.

[ COPA AMERICA PREVIEWS: Group A | BC | D ]

Listening to Klinsmann and a handful of players speak after the game, there was a similar sense of confidence among the men on the field that a workable, sustainable formula had indeed been realized.

“The atmosphere is really good,” the 1990 World Cup-winning German said. “Fine-tuning elements, every training session helps you. I think no team will come into Copa America 100 percent or perfectly prepared. … It’s a bit tricky.”

[ MORE: Ranking Copa America contenders — what are USMNT’s chances? ]

Perhaps no player on the USMNT’s Copa America roster has come further under Klinsmann’s tutelage, and in such a short period of time, than striker Bobby Wood, who has scored all five of his international goals inside the last five months and on Saturday assisted on Gyasi Zardes’s strike for a 3-0 lead with a quality cut-back cross from the end line — Wood, speaking after the game:

“I think as a team, we’re pretty confident,” Wood said. “We wanted to continue growing as a team with each game before the tournament. With these results, I think we did a good job to be confident going into the Colombia game. … I actually think two games ago, we were still pretty confident. Maybe the outside is putting pressure on us, but as a team inside the locker room, we’re pretty confident to do well. I think everyone is pretty hungry for Copa to start.”

It’s the USMNT’s current crop of youngsters like Wood, the 23-year-old now-Hamburg man, that gives American fans hope beyond Copa America with an eye toward the 2018 World Cup in Russia. The average age of the scorers of the USMNT’s last eight goals: 23 years old. No one is more excited by that progression than Klinsmann, who raved about Christian Pulisic after the 17-year-old became the youngest goalscorer in USMNT history on Saturday.

“What is wonderful to see is the growth of [the young] players over these last one or two years — how they improved their game, how they’re becoming more adult[-like], obviously stronger physically, but also becoming more confident,” he said of players like Wood, Zardes, DeAndre Yedlin and John Brooks, among others. “This is a process. The process is never-ending, but the first couple of years when you grow, it’s a big learning curve. How far this process takes us into Copa America, we’ll take it one step at a time. We put the pieces together the best way that we get the right results.

“I think over the next couple of weeks, they will definitely get their opportunities to play minutes, leave an impression, and to push more and more the established players toward the edge, which is their job. It will be a very intense and interesting next couple of weeks.”

 

Tens of thousands welcomed Real Madrid home after Champions League final

Real Madrid bus (Photo credit: Real Madrid / Twitter: @realmadrid)
Photo credit: Real Madrid / Twitter: @realmadrid
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MADRID (AP) Tens of thousands of fans endured the rain to greet Real Madrid players as they returned home early Sunday from their triumph in the Champions League final.

[ MORE: Real top Atleti on penalty kicks — Ronaldo the hero again ]

Many waited all night after celebrating the team’s win over crosstown rival Atletico Madrid in a penalty shootout on Saturday in Milan.

The players arrived in Madrid at about 6 a.m. local time (0400 GMT) and traveled on an open bus to the club’s traditional celebration spot, the Plaza de Cibeles, where an estimated 30,000 supporters welcomed the team.

Players carried the Champions League trophy atop the bus, constantly showing it to the cheering fans. The word “Campeones” and “11” were displayed prominently on the bus, in reference to the club’s 11th European title.

[ MORE: Ronaldo — “Our team showed more experience” ]

Team captain Sergio Ramos, who scored Madrid’s goal in regulation time at the San Siro, took the walkway set up over the plaza’s fountain and draped the statue of the goddess Cybele with the club’s scarf and flag, then lifted the trophy high above the famous figure.

A huge video screen was set up at the plaza to allow fans to watch the final, and the party began right after Cristiano Ronaldo converted the final penalty kick in the shootout to give the club its second European title in three seasons. Light shows and music entertained the fans through the night.

Atletico Madrid supporters, who again were denied the opportunity to celebrate the title, had gathered at a different viewing spot to watch the final.

[ MORE: Bale — “We deserve it” ]

There were no reports of major incidents between fans of the rival clubs.

Real Madrid said “almost 80,000” fans watched Saturday’s final at the team’s Santiago Bernabeu Stadium, where four huge screens were placed at midfield. The title celebration at the stadium included confetti thrown into the air as “We are the champions” played through loudspeakers.

The team will meet with the mayor of Madrid later on Sunday and again will parade through city streets.

The title celebrations will culminate at night at the Bernabeu.

Marek Hamsik absolutely smashes goal in Slovakia’s upset of Germany (video)

TRNAVA, SLOVAKIA - MARCH 25:  Marek Hamsik of Slovakia runs with the ball during the international friendly match between Slovakia and Latvia held at Stadion Antona Malatinskeho on March 25, 2016 in Trnava, Slovakia.  (Photo by David Rogers/Getty Images)
Photo by David Rogers/Getty Images
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Marek Hamsik hit a ball with such momentous force that we’re not sure it rotated more than three full turns on its 20-yard flight into the goal.

The Slovakia star’s goal equalized a friendly with Germany at 1, and Repre went on to hammer the reigning World Cup champs by a 3-1 score.

[ USMNT-BOLIVIA: Recap3 things | Player ratings ]

I mean, really, what a hit. Bernd Leno had little hope of touching it.