Jose Mourinho

Quick Six: Top headlines from the Premier League Weekend

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1. Chelsea falls apart in Birmingham

You could almost hear conventional wisdom scoffing at José Mourinho when, in the lead up to Chelsea’s visit to Villa Park, the Blues’ manager said a draw in Birmingham would be a good result. Having never won at Aston Villa, Mourinho’s view was informed by hard-fought point after hard-fought point against Martin O’Neill’s teams. Even if the current Republic of Ireland manager has since moved on, Mourinho was not taking his trip to the Midlands for granted.

His worries turned out to be prescient. Chelsea, as is their recent pattern, went into halftime on Saturday without a goal, with their chances to produce another second half onslaught evaporating when Chris Foy harshly dismissed Willian. After Ramires earned his own sending off and Mourinho was sent to the stands, headlines cast Villa’s victory in terms of a nine-man Chelsea.

(MORE: Aston Villa 1-0 Chelsea: Villa benefit from Blues’ loss of composure (video))

Which, of course, is deceiving. Villa scored their winner well before Ramires was sent off. They were just as good as Chelsea before their opponents were reduced to ten. Pointing out the Blues were reduced to nine makes for a catchy headline, but it also paints a deceiving picture of the match.

The importance of that treatment goes beyond weird editorial minutia. It’s important to understanding Saturday’s game. Chelsea didn’t entirely fall victim to soccer randomness and officiating misfortunate. Those were contributing factors in an otherwise disappointing performance. The Blues had a bad day, one that would have ended in a draw had Foy’s judgment not compounded their problems.

This has been the issue with Chelsea’s title credentials all along. They are too easily drawn into these sorts of games, as the showed last month at West Brom, in January against West Ham, in December at Stoke. Other title contenders have their own problems (mostly, defense), but this is theirs. Their approach often leaves them playing down to their competition.

On any given weekend, against any team in the league, Chelsea can be drawn into this type of game. That may not be enough to keep it from the title, but it is something to worry about, particularly after it cost the team points on Saturday.

2. Long odds improving for Liverpool

When talk of Liverpool contending for this season’s title began in earnest last month, we noted the long odds. Liverpool would not only have to out-play Arsenal, Chelsea, and Manchester City but do so to a degree that made up the ground they’d conceded over the previous four months. At the time, the Reds were in fourth place and closer to Europa League than the title.

Fast forward one month, and Brendan Rodgers’ team has in fact out-played their competition. They are making up the ground. After their 3-0 win at Old Trafford, Liverpool’s within four of the top. They also have a game in hand on Chelsea.

All of which is big picture stuff. More narrowly, Liverpool were so much better than Manchester United, the match became a symbol of one team’s climb, another’s decline. Whereas Liverpool has struggled to match their rivals’ Premier League success, now the Red Devils are little more than a speed bump, one that can’t even mount a challenge at Old Trafford. And while Liverpool are much stronger than last year, there’s little explanation for why Manchester United, over the course of seven months, have fallen so far behind its rivals.

(MORE: Manchester United 0-3 Liverpool: Gerrard hits twice from the spot to send Reds second)

Nobody expected David Moyes to replicate Alex Ferguson’s accomplishments, which is why so few pundits picked them to repeat. At the same time, nobody could have reasonably foreseen they would be this bad, and had you told people in August that this team would add Juan Mata, Marouane Fellaini, and see Adnan Januzaj ascend to a starter’s role, Moyes wouldn’t have been given the leeway he received in fall.

But that leeway’s led to this. Manchester United is inexplicably bad, perhaps indefensibly so, an it’s nothing new. Liverpool’s rout provided more proof, but this is United’s 2013-14 season: A quest for rock bottom.

3. 11th man not necessary for Manchester City at Hull

Vincent Kompany’s case as one of the world’s best defenders is a strange one. Physically, and in terms of skill, talent, and capability, he may be the most complete defender in the world. He’s reputed to be one of the smartest players in the game, yet when he doesn’t have a somebody to his left that can provide decent cover, things go awry. His want to venture from his place in the defense — to take advantage of his athleticism, skill, and ability to read the game — comes back to haunt him.

On Saturday, perhaps he was hard done, but defenders know. If you are behind a guy and pull him down, you’re going to walk when nobody else between that man and goal. Argue about when defines a true goal scoring opportunity all you want, but the moment Nikica Jelavic got past him, Kompany couldn’t foul.

Thankfully for City, the dismissal didn’t matter. Playing with 10 men for 80 minutes, the Citizens still produced at 2-0 win at Hull. A quick response from David Silva and late insurance from Edin Dzeko helped bring City within six points of Chelsea, with their league-leading +44 goal difference set to help them in any tiebreaker scenario.

(MORE: Hull City 0-2 Manchester City: Silva inspires 10-man City to victory (video))

Their biggest advantage, though: Three games in hand on the Blues. On a points-per-game basis, Manchester City have the best record in the league. Whether that holds up while it makes up those games in hand will determine whether Manuel Pellegrini will finally break through and claim a European league title.

source: AP4. Rosicky, Arsenal add to Sherwood’s woes

When Tomas Rosicky finished into Hugo Lloris’s left side netting in the second minute, Sunday’s North London Derby looked set to become the third in a series of lopsided Spurs losses. With a little help from Arsenal (and its willingness to sit on that 1-0 lead), Tottenham avoided another embarrassing loss, something that won’t placate supporters hoping their team could do against their biggest rivals.

(MORE: Tottenham 0-1 Arsenal: Early Rosicky goal, solid shape give Arsenal derby double over Spurs)

The match’s telling moment may have been in the middle of the first half, when Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain’s failed breakaway prompted Tim Sherwood to throw his coat to the ground. The fit of emotion eventually forced the new Spurs boss back to his chair, folded arms across his chest employing a five-year-old’s method of anger management. It was a show of passion, but it also was a sign of immaturity.

Before the match, Gary Lineker shared his views on Sherwood’s recent outbursts, saying encouragement tends to be the better option than criticism (at least, in public). Graeme Le Soux noted Sherwood’s use of a negative approach so early in his tenure didn’t speak well of the manager’s methods. Today’s sideline outburst only adds to the cracks in the new boss’s armor.

Had Spurs won on Sunday, they would have been within three points of fourth. Champions League would have been a realistic possibility. Failing to put a plan in place that could compete with a lackluster Arsenal, Sherwood showed he isn’t the man to take them there. Now it’s question of what Tottenham does next.

5. If Fulham, West Brom can win games, anything’s possible

As the relegation race progresses, we’ve had to start breaking out the clichés, perhaps the most used of which is “one good streak.” If any of the teams at the bottom of the Premier League can go on a good three- or four-game run, it’ll be in the first division come August. March’s results may be terrible, but turn it around mid-April? Life in the Championship becomes a hypothetical.

Fulham, for example, has been the league’s worst team this season. On Saturday, however, they got a 1-0 win over Newcastle United, bringing them to within five points of safety. Though they have Manchester City and Everton on the schedule in the coming weeks, they also have a number of opponents from whom even a slightly improved Cottagers team could take points: Aston Villa, Norwich, Hull, Stoke and Crystal Palace. As bad as this season has been at Craven Cottage, there is hope.

(MORE: Fulham 1-0 Newcastle United: Dejagah strike and late non-call give Cottagers three huge points)

West Brom, like Fulham, is experiencing an uptick in hopes after this weekend’s action. With their 2-1 win at Swansea, the Baggies registered their first victory under Pepe Mel, putting three points between them and the drop. With a goal difference edge on the rest of its relegation rivals, West Brom suddenly look like a good bet to stay up.

(MORE: Swansea City 1-2 West Brom: Pepe Mel gets first win, likely saves his job (video))

But let’s check back next week. After all, seven days ago, Cardiff City looked ready to make a charge. Then the team had to go to Everton, and the room it’d created on Fulham evaporated. It may take one good run to ensure survival, but runs extend beyond a single result.

source: Getty Images6. Nicolas Anelka may go away, but the FA wants his ban to follow

England’s Football Association should get out of the Nicolas Anelka business as soon as possible, even if that means not pursuing his ban as he leaves English shores. After the French attacker quit West Brom (before being fired), the Premier League is rid of a player whose latest incarnation brought nothing but controversy. While the early season passing of his agent unfortunately hindered his adjustment to the Baggies, his midseason quenelle ensured any lasting impact he had on the club would be a negative one.

While you can see why the FA wants Anelka’s ban to be observed by other leagues, thus strengthening the credibility of their punishments, the pursuit has given Anelka another day in the headlines. Better to just move on. Particularly at this time of the season — with league races, FA Cup, and Champions League in focus — it’s okay to forget about Nicolas Anelka.

Juninho hoping Willian breaks his Champions League free-kick record

xxxx during the Barclays Premier League match between Chelsea and Southampton at Stamford Bridge on October 3, 2015 in London, United Kingdom.
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Willian has scored six goals for Chelsea this season, with all six coming from free kicks.

Four of those have been scored in the Champions League, as the Brazilian has tied the record for the most free-kick goals in a single UCL campaign.

[ MORE: Premier League roundup ]

Willian is tied with his fellow Brazilian Juninho, known as one of the deadliest set-piece takers of all-time, who scored four times for Lyon during the 2005-06 campaign.

When asked about the possibility of his record being broken, Juninho was glad it would be by another Brazilian player, and said Willian will likely surpass him in the coming matches.

It’s good it’s a Brazilian, and from this new generation of good players we have.

It is very gratifying for me because when I scored these four goals, no one said anything.

I’m being remembered by what Willian has achieved, and I think he has everything to beat the record. The Champions League has barely reached half way and Chelsea still have a few more games to play.

Willian has converted 6 of 12 free kicks this season, scoring at an unheard-of 50-percent clip. All of his goals have come from almost the exact same spot on the pitch, about 20-25 yards out at the corner of the box to the keepers right.

[ WATCH: Jamie Vardy scores in record 11th straight Premier League match ]

Chelsea’s next Champions League match is on December 9 at Stamford Bridge against Porto. The Blues need a draw to advance into the knockout round.

West Brom’s Jonas Olsson backs Zlatan for Premier League move

SOLNA, SWEDEN - NOVEMBER 14: Sweden 10 Zlatan Ibrahimovic durring a European Qualifier Play-Off between Sweden and Denmark on November 14, 2015 in Solna, Sweden.  (Photo by Michael Campanella/Getty Images)
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With his contract at Paris Saint-Germain expiring in the summer, where Zlatan will go next is one of the biggest mysteries in football.

Having already played in the Netherlands, Spain, Italy and France, the Premier League would be a logical next step in Zlatan’s career.

[ MORE: Aguero injury update ]

However, at 34-years-old, Zlatan himself has said it is “too late” for him to play in England, adding more mystery to where he will end up.

Despite what Zlatan says, his teammate on the Sweden national team Jonas Olsson believes the PSG striker is more than capable of playing in the Premier League.

Olsson, who has made nearly 400 appearances for West Bromwich Albion over the past eight seasons, said Zlatan’s elite talent would be fit for England’s top flight.

He’s still at the top of his game. He is the strongest player I have faced. I really hope he comes.

Zlatan on his day is the most talented footballer in the game. He has played under Mourinho before and the only place where he’s not 100% appreciated is in the UK.

I think he can play for any team in this league – he is still that good.

Even at 34, Zlatan has proven he is still one of the best strikers in the world. He recently became Paris Saint-Germain’s all-time leading scorer, and has scored at least 30 goals in each of the past four seasons.

[ VIDEO: Jamie Vardy speaks after scoring in 11 straight Premier League matches ]

The Premier League certainly has the money to entice Zlatan, and it is the biggest league in the world that he hasn’t conquered yet. Expect his name to be linked with a move to every major club in Europe for the rest of the year, as we’ll just have to wait until June and see what he decides.

Three questions ahead of Sunday’s MLS Conference Finals

PORTLAND, OR - NOVEMBER 22: Goal keeper Adam Kwarasey #12 of Portland Timbers slides in on Michael Barrios #21 of FC Dallas during the second half of the match at Providence Park on November 22, 2015 in Portland, Oregon. (Photo by Steve Dykes/Getty Images)
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There are only two matches remaining before MLS Cup, with both conference’s top seeds in need of a big result.

FC Dallas lost to the Portland Timbers 3-1 in the first leg out West, while the New York Red Bulls fell 2-0 to Columbus Crew SC in the East.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s MLS coverage ]

Leg 2 of the Conference Finals will both be played on Sunday, as we will know the MLS Cup finalists by the end of the night.

WEST: FC Dallas vs. Portland Timbers — 5 p.m. ET
EAST: New York Red Bulls vs. Columbus Crew SC — 7:30 p.m. ET

With each home-side needing to overcome a two-goal deficit, here’s what to look out for in the Conference Finals.

Will FC Dallas capitalize on home-field advantage?

Despite being down 3-1 on aggregate, FC Dallas will be looking forward to Sunday’s second leg. Dallas finished the season 13-2-2 at Toyota Stadium, the best home record in MLS. After scoring a crucial away goal in Portland, a 2-0 win for Dallas will see the side advance to the final. Their 33 goals scored at home was the second-best mark in the Western Conference, as Oscar Pareja’s men will feel confident despite the aggregate.

[ VIDEO: USMNT’s Fabian Johnson scores twice for Monchengladbach ]

Is Norberto Paparatto ready to replace Liam Ridgewell?

Norberto Paparatto has played just six matches for Portland this season, but it looks like he’ll be starting on Sunday. Liam Ridgewell, who started all 32 matches at center-back, injured his calf in the first leg and manager Caleb Porter said Paparatto will “most likely” be starting, as Ridgewell was seen warming up separately from the rest of the team in training. With FC Dallas in need of goals, Paparatto will have his hands full on defense, especially with the likes of Fabian Castillo and Mauro Diaz bombing forward.

Can Luis Robles keep a clean sheet for RBNY?

The Red Bulls’ Luis Robles was named MLS Goalkeeper of the Year this season, and he’s going to need to play like that on Sunday. After losing 2-0 in the first leg without scoring an away goal, New York needs a 2-0 win themselves just to force extra-time. If Columbus scores at Red Bull Arena, New York needs to score four goals to advance. While it will have to be a collective team effort to keep the Crew off the scoresheet, Robles will have to make some big saves in goal to keep his side in it.

La Liga roundup: Barcelona win big in another dominant performance

<> at Camp Nou on November 28, 2015 in Barcelona, Spain.
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Catch up on all of Saturday’s La Liga action, as the trio of Messi-Suarez-Neymar continues to terrorize defenses.

Barcelona 4-0 Real Sociedad

In case you haven’t heard, Barcelona is scary good. Coming off of brilliant 4-0 and 6-1 wins over Real Madrid and Roma respectively, the Catalans trounced Real Sociedad at Camp Nou. It was the usual suspects once again, as Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez, and Neymar (x2) scored the goals in another masterful performance. The M-S-N trio has accounted for 30 of Barcelona’s 33 goals in La Liga this season.

Atletico Madrid 1-0 Espanyol

While the boys from Barcelona may be getting all the headlines, Antoine Griezmann has been having a great season for Atletico Madrid. The French international scored the game-winner in Atletico’s 1-0 win over Espanyol, his tenth in all competitions this season. The good news is that Atleti sit second on the table with a five-point lead over Real Madrid in third, while the bad news is that midfielder Tiago broke his leg in the match.

[ WATCH: Everton, Bournemouth trade late goals in stoppage-time thriller ]

Malaga 2-2 Granada

In a battle of teams fighting for La Liga survival, Granada came from behind to steal a draw at Malaga. The home-side was leading 2-0 until Granada tallied twice in the final ten minutes to take a huge point for the club. Malaga remains glued to the bottom of the table, while Granada is currently out of the drop zone on goal differential.

Elsewhere in La Liga

Levante 0-1 Real Betis
Las Palmas 0-2 Deportivo
Celta Vigo 2-1 Sporting Gijon
Getafe vs. Villarreal (Sunday, 6 a.m. ET)
Eibar vs. Real Madrid (Sunday, 10 a.m. ET)
Rayo vs. Athletic Bilbao (Sunday, 12:15 p.m. ET)
Sevilla vs. Valencia (Sunday, 2:30 p.m. ET)