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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.

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)
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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)
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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)
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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.