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Quick Six: Liverpool snares first, hitting mute on Mourinho, and the rest of the weekend’s PL headlines

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1. Reds’ rise: Liverpool claims first place

The Quick Six has been cautious about Liverpool’s title credentials, mostly because, as pundits were trumpeting the Reds’ chances two months ago, there were too many obstacles to consider Liverpool likely title-winners. Fast forward to the end of March, however, and all of those hurdlers have fallen. Chelsea lost their second in three, Manchester City were tripped up at Arsenal, and Brendan Rodgers’ team — a club that has yet to claim a title in the Premier League era — continues to be England’s form side. After its 4-0 win Sunday over Tottenham, Liverpool is in first place, having taken 35 of a possible 39 points in 2014.

Unless you’re a Liverpool fan, it’s difficult to fathom what a title would mean to the club. This is a team that was the uncontested kings of English soccer until the Premier League era saw that crow move east. Now, during the same season when Manchester United has ceased being a title contender, Liverpool is back, and unexpectedly so. While Reds fans hoped  Rodgers could eventually return the club to this level, nobody expected it to happen so soon.

They still have to face Manchester City and Chelsea, but the Reds get both of those matches at home. While nobody would be surprised to see teams of City and Chelsea’s talent get something at Anfield, Liverpool has control of its title fate. With six games left, the underdogs may now be the favorites.


2. Underdogs again Chelsea’s undoing

Consider Chelsea’s last three league games: a 1-0 loss at 12th place Aston Villa; a six-goal win over fourth place Arsenal; and a one-goal loss at 16th place Crystal Palace. It’s as uneven a run as you’ll see from any team, going from routing former title contenders to losing at relegation battlers. But just as last Arsenal’s collapse last week was less surprising than merely an unspoken possibility, Chelsea’s stumble at Selhurst Park was more disappointing (for Blues fans) than a shock. Unfortunately, this team has always had results like this in it.

José Mourinho says his team is out of the title race. We’ll diving into that further in moment, but he’s right to be skeptical of his team’s chances. After the 1-0 loss at Palace, Chelsea is two points behind Liverpool, with the Reds destined to win the goal difference tiebreaker. Even if the Blues track them down, they also have to hold off Manchester City, who trail by only two points yet have two games in hand.

The easiest route to a title: win at Anfield on Apr. 27; hope City didn’t do the same on Apr. 13. But Chelsea also have games against Stoke, Swansea, Sunderland, Norwich and Cardiff. Over the last three weeks, those types of match ups have been the real problem.


3. Mourinho comments highlight inanity of manager fixation

There’s no sport where the role of manager is as glorified as it is in soccer, part of the reason we fixate on almost everything that comes out of their mouths. José Mourinho is the best example of this, with every quote that crosses the Portuguese’s lips landing in the headlines of London tabloids and worldwide blogs alike, but recently the Chelsea boss seems on a mission to prove how inane our fixation has become. As the season goes on, his comments become more and more absurd, as if he’s testing how ridiculous he can be before the media hits “Block”.

At least, that’s a more reasonable explanation for Mourinho’s behavior than ‘these are his honest thoughts.’

“I think now we have lost any chance of finishing first,” Mourinho said on Saturday. At the time, his team was in first place.

“We are not [contenders]. I don’t think it will happen: we depend too much on other results, and the other teams control what they need. I don’t think we can win the league now.”

If Chelsea win at Anfield while City draws, the Blues are back where they were two weeks ago: contenting, albeit regretting City’s games in hand. Of course, Mourinho didn’t think Chelsea were title contenders then, either.

It’s almost as if we should just stop listening to José Mourinho.


4. Draw at Emirates leaves both Arsenal, City losers

We’ve mentioned a potential Liverpool-City draw at Anfield as the best case scenario for Chelsea. It’s shorthand for “whatever hurts both teams most,” which happened to be the outcome this weekend at the Emirates. Though Arsenal’s 1-1 draw with Manchester City was seen as a bit of a recovery for the Gunners, it was ultimately a setback in their fight to hold on to fourth place.

Consider where Everton sit after the Toffees’ 3-1 win at Fulham. They have a match in hand. They’re only four points back. They host Arsenal at Goodison Park this weekend, and they have form on their side. Whereas Arsenal is winless in its last three, Everton’s won five league matches in a row. Though the Toffees fell 4-1 the last time the teams met (March 8, the Emirates, FA Cup), Everton also earned a 1-1 in North London earlier this season. Unable to claim full points at home against City, Arsenal’s increased the odds of Everton snaring its Champions League spot.

The same skepticism can be applied to City, though. On one level, getting a result on the road against a top-four team is a positive, but City is the much better team. Coming off a trouncing at Chelsea and a home draw with Swansea, Arsenal’s  form had been fledgling. After going up early through David Silva, City should have found a way to claim full points. At least, they should have felt an urgency to do so.

In terms of the title race, it was a small setback for the Citizens, just as Arsenal’s chance to finish fourth was hurt, albeit slightly, by the result. Neither team is better off after Saturday’s result.


source: AP5. Moyes persists in his contrarianism

As if to illustrate Mourinho’s possible point (that we should never pay attention to what managers say), David Moyes has found a new level to his contrarianism. At season’s onset, he insisted his team was playing well in the face of diminishing results.With a slew of attacking talents, he’s persisted with a conservative style, recently attempting to regress Juan Mata to the wide player he was before exploding in England. Add in his view that his Red Devils could win Champions League (admittedly, an obligatory view) and there are no bounds to the man’s willingness to contradict conventional wisdom.

Friday’s bit of contrarianism may have taken the cake, though. In the face of news fans planned to fly a “Wrong One-Moyes Out” banner at Old Trafford, Moyes claimed to still have the backing of United’s supporters. He may have their sympathy, but as United’s results have gotten worse, he certainly hasn’t maintained their support. At this point, most Manchester United fans would probably support a change in manager, part of the reason protest banners are flying over Old Trafford.

Manchester United beat Villa 4-1, but as others have pointed out, there was a time when such results weren’t lauded as signs of progress. The Red Devils remain seventh, a state which, despite Moyes’ contrarianism, a different approach could have avoided.


6. Bottom three DRIFTING from the pack

As the title race heats up, the relegation race is cooling down, with none of what’s become a staid, predictable bottom three mounting a challenge. Even as one of the trio, Cardiff City, got a result this weekend, it was only a draw, and it came against the club the Bluebirds need to track down. Ole Gunnar Solskjær’s team is no closer to passing West Brom than it was before Saturday’s 3-3 draw.

For Fulham, the underlying play is more encouraging, but the results are not. The Cottagers remain in last place after Sunday’s 3-1 loss to Everton. Adding to its worries, Fulham’s -42 goal difference means it’s unlikely to win any tiebreakers. The five-point gap that separates it from 17th place West Brom may as well be six.

And then there’s Sunderland, a club that could look to the games played column and hold out hope. Ahead of the team’s Monday visit from West Ham, the Black Cats have two games in hand on the Baggies. The only problem: Given their current form, those games may be worthless. Sunderland’s runs in the League and FA Cups have helped obscure the fact the team hasn’t won in the Premier League since Feb. 1.

We have no idea who’s going to win this season’s title, but we’re starting to get a good idea who’s going down. None of Fulham, Sunderland, or Cardiff City have found a formula that will mount a challenge to West Brom. Even when one does make progress, as Cardiff did this weekend, they finish the round no better off than they were before.

Altidore earns U.S. Male Player of the Year honors, Pulisic wins Young POY

Toronto FC forward Jozy Altidore (17) reacts after scoring against the Montreal Impact during the first half of the second leg of MLS Eastern Conference championship series, in Toronto on Wednesday, Nov. 30, 2016. (Nathan Denette/The Canadian Press via AP)
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While Jozy Altidore and his Toronto FC side have the chance to take home MLS Cup on Saturday night, the U.S. Men’s National Team forward earned an award of his own in the build up.

[ MORE: MLS commissioner Garber addresses expansion and more ]

On Friday night, U.S. Soccer named Altidore the federation’s Male Player of the Year for 2016, while Borussia Dortmund attacker Christian Pulisic has won Male Young Player of the Year honors.

Altidore takes home Male POY honors for the second time in his career after first winning the award back in 2013.

Altidore narrowly won POY honors with 32 percent of the vote, beating out Bobby Wood (30 percent) and Geoff Cameron (15 percent).

“This is truly an honor to receive this award. It’s also very humbling when you look at such a talented group of teammates nominated for this accolade along with you,” Altidore said. “At the end of the day, any success I have had on the field this year is in large part due to their success and contributions.”

The 27-year-old Altidore scored 10 goals for TFC during the regular season, before adding five goals and four assists for the MLS side ahead of MLS Cup. In his time with the USMNT, Altidore has netted six goals and two assists in 2016, leading all players.

Pulisic found the net three times this year for the USMNT, while excelling in the Bundesliga with Dortmund. The 18-year-old has made 15 appearances in all competitions this season for the German giants and scored two goals for Thomas Tuchel’s squad.

Russian official Mutko seeks to retain FIFA Council seat

MOSCOW, RUSSIA - OCTOBER 21: Deputy Prime Minister of the Russian Federation Vitaly Mutko attends at 'Vecherniy (Evening) Urgant' TV show on Channel 1 during FIFA 2018 World Cup Russia Official Mascot final choice event at Ostankino on October 21, 2016 in Moscow, Russia. (Photo by Getty Images/Getty Images)
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NYON, Switzerland (AP) Under fire for his role in Russia’s state doping program, Vitaly Mutko has begun the process of a FIFA integrity check to be an election candidate.

[ MORE: Can Spurs overcome their historic results form at Old Trafford? ]

Mutko, who heads Russian operations to organize the 2018 World Cup, has been elected by European soccer leaders since 2009 to represent them on FIFA’s ruling committee.

[ MORE: Man City visits Leicester with two sides on opposite ends of table ]

His FIFA seat is due for re-election in April, though potential candidates must pass a vetting and eligibility check by a review panel appointed by the world soccer body.

On Friday, Mutko was implicated in widespread evidence detailed by Canadian investigator Richard McLaren that he oversaw a state-backed doping program as sports minister.

Hours later, UEFA said Mutko was among five applicants for four vacant seats on the FIFA Council. The April 5 vote is by 55 European member federations.

Mutko has retained his FIFA positions and presidency of the Russian soccer federation since McLaren’s interim report was published in July.

The World Anti-Doping Agency then called on the FIFA ethics committee to investigate Mutko based on McLaren’s evidence.

The full investigation report release on Friday seemed to confirm that Mutko was asked to cover up a positive doping test by a Russian Premier League player from Uzbekistan.

Mutko was also implicated as sports minister in overseeing widespread doping programs of Russian athletes who competes at the 2012 London Olympics, 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics, and the 2013 track and field world championships, held in Moscow.

It is unclear if FIFA’s ethics committee has a mandate to prosecute non-soccer cases.

Asked on Friday if UEFA could launch its own investigation of Mutko, leaders of the European body deferred to FIFA’s ongoing vetting process.

“We have written to FIFA with the five potential candidates and the procedure is FIFA has to go through this eligibility check,” UEFA legal director Alasdair Bell said.

Bell acknowledged that the McLaren report “appears to contain some serious allegations” though noted that “these are contested.”

Three of Mutko’s long-standing colleagues are standing down from their FIFA Council seats from Europe: Michel D’Hooghe of Belgium, Senes Erzik of Turkey, and Marios Lefkaritis of Cyprus.

UEFA said the other election contenders are: Sandor Csanyi, a current UEFA executive committee member from Hungary; Geir Thorsteinsson, president of Iceland’s soccer federation; former AC Milan player Dejan Savicevic of Montenegro; and Costakis Koutsokoumnis, the Cyprus federation president.

Neymar out, Arda Turan has another chance for Barcelona

BARCELONA, SPAIN - DECEMBER 06:  Arda Turan of Barcelona (R) celebrates with Lucas Digne as he scores their second goal during the UEFA Champions League Group C match between FC Barcelona and VfL Borussia Moenchengladbach at Camp Nou on December 6, 2016 in Barcelona, .  (Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images)
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BARCELONA, Spain (AP) Fresh off scoring a hat trick, Turkey midfielder Arda Turan is hoping for another chance to prove he can play alongside Barcelona’s best.

[ MORE: Man City faces Leicester without Aguero, Fernandinho ]

With Neymar suspended for Saturday’s Spanish league match at Osasuna, Turan is likely to take his spot next to Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez in the defending champion’s vaunted attack.

[ MORE: Arsenal looks to continue unbeaten run against Stoke City ]

Turan filled in superbly for Neymar on Tuesday when he scored his first hat trick for Barcelona to lead the team to a 4-0 victory over Borussia Moenchengladbach in the Champions League.

The treble took Turan’s scoring total for the season to eight goals, making him Barcelona’s third-leading scorer behind Messi (20) and Suarez (12).

Even though nobody doubts Neymar is the more talented of the two, the Brazil striker has managed only six goals despite playing 400 minutes more than Turan this season.

Neymar’s suspensions from both the `Gladbach and Osasuna matches were for accumulation of bookings in both competitions.

“Arda is scoring lots of goals. When he plays on the wing he has many skills he can draw on,” Barcelona coach Luis Enrique said. “He can also play in midfield. I am happy for him.”

Turan, however, has proven to be a tough piece for Luis Enrique to fit into Barcelona’s talent-laden puzzle.

As his coach said, Turan has impressed on the left side of the attack. But that spot has Neymar’s name stamped on it, and Turan has struggled when asked to play further back.

While Turan flourishes when given space and the freedom to break down defenses, he looks uncomfortable in Barcelona’s demanding precision passing approach.

His unease with the defensive tasks that playing in midfield entails was clear in last weekend’s match against Real Madrid when Turan went on as a late substitute to help protect a one-goal lead.

Instead, Turan’s foul on Marcelo conceded a dangerous free kick that Luka Modric didn’t waste, placing a cross for Sergio Ramos to head in a 90th-minute equalizer and snatch a 1-1 draw that kept Madrid six points clear at the top of the Spanish table.

Turan took a lot of heat for that foul in the Barcelona sports media, meaning his three goals against `Gladbach couldn’t have come at a better time.

“We haven’t played well recently and haven’t gotten good results,” Turan said. “We tried to get the best possible result and play at our best (against `Gladbach).”

Now 29, Turan developed into one of the league’s top attacking midfielders through four seasons with Diego Simeone at Atletico Madrid, helping the once second-rate team become one of Europe’s best with league, Copa del Rey and Europa League titles.

But when Barcelona called in 2015, Turan changed clubs despite knowing that he couldn’t play until 2016 because of Barcelona’s FIFA-imposed one-year ban on new players for breaking its transfer rules regarding underage players.

The former Galatasaray standout also joined Barcelona well aware that competition for playing time, never mind a regular starting role, would be fierce with the likes of Messi, Suarez and, above all, Neymar.

After failing to find a spot following his debut midway through last campaign, Turan made a promising start to this season when Neymar was away playing for Brazil.

He scored twice in a Spanish Super Cup victory over Sevilla and notched Barcelona’s first league goal of the season. But once Neymar was back from helping Brazil win the Olympic gold medal, Turan was back on the bench.

[ MORE: Watford, Everton meet with both clubs looking to halt poor form ]

The reserve role clearly didn’t suit him. Only one of his goals this season has come as a substitute, when he sparked a 2-1 comeback at `Gladbach in September.

Unlike this week’s second win over `Gladbach, which came with Barcelona already qualified for the Champions League’s knockout rounds, Barcelona visits Pamplona on Saturday needing to break a run of three straight league draws.

Promoted Osasuna appears to be the optimum rival to end that skid. It is in last place and hasn’t won in seven home matches since its return to the first division.

State of the League: Garber addresses expansion, Beckham Miami and more

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - SEPTEMBER 09:  Major League Soccer Commissioner Don Garber talks during day four of the Soccerex - Manchester Convention at Manchester Central on September 9, 2015 in Manchester, England.  (Photo by Daniel Smith/Getty Images)
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As Major League Soccer gears up for Saturday night’s massive final in Toronto, league commissioner Don Garber addressed the media in the buildup with his annual State of the League address on Friday.

[ MORE: 3 key battles to watch in Saturday’s MLS Cup final ]

Among the topics discussed were expansion, the demise of NASL and what MLS is doing to attract younger players to United States.

[ MORE: Copa America trip helped convince Lodeiro to make MLS move ]

As it has been in the past, expansion was the biggest discussion on the docket, with Garber stating that next week will likely determine a timeline for the league’s next entries.

“As you probably know it is strategic expansion,” Garber said during Friday’s MLS State of the League address. “Following our board meeting on Thursday in New York, we will announce a process and a timeline for our next round of expansion, which will add clubs 25, 26, 27 and 28 to Major League Soccer.”

David Beckham’s Miami franchise is currently tabbed as the league’s 24th entry, following Minnesota and Atlanta in 2017 and Los Angeles FC in 2018, however, the future of Beckham’s project remains very much up in the air.

[ MORE: All of PST’s MLS coverage ]

In the event that Miami is passed over, there are plenty of teams waiting in the wings to claim its spot. Sacramento, Cincinnati, St. Louis, Detroit and San Diego are among the many destinations currently vying for entry into MLS, however, Sacramento and Cincinnati remain very high on the list after seeing recent success and growth in USL.

“There is a deadline on the Miami deal. I am not going to share that deadline, it is an agreement we have with David and (his business partner) Simon Fuller,” Garber said in regards to the Miami plans.

“But … we need to resolve the Miami situation so that we can go forward with our expansion plans for (expansion) teams 25-28 because they are team 24 and if they are not going to be 24 there are going to be a lot of things that need to move around and it is something we will discuss at our board meeting.”

When Garber was asked about the decline of NASL and particularly the status of the New York Cosmos and whether MLS would ever consider allowing the franchise to join, he stated that the league has no intentions of adding a third New York/New Jersey team.

“As it relates to the Cosmos, it’s a great brand,” said Garber. “We have two teams in MLS in New York. We are not going to have a third team.”

Additionally, Garber also noted that the league has no intentions of changing the MLS playoff format or adding an additional Designated Player spot for each club’s disposal. However, the commissioner did confirm that teams will see an increase of $400,000 each in target allocation money (TAM) in 2017, bringing the total per club up to $1.2 million.