Quick Six: Everton’s CL reality, leaders hold serve, and the rest of the PL’s weekend headlines

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1. Everton win gives life to Champions League hopes

This is really happening. For as much as we’ve talked about Everton having control of its Champions League destiny, it never felt real… until now. Before the Toffees routed Arsenal at Goodison Park on Sunday, this looked like another Arsenal close call; another plucky-but-short season from the Toffees; another reminder of the difference between the Premier League’s mammoth and merely big clubs. If decades of Everton failure against Arsenal told us anything, it’s that certain teams are allowed to be good, just not too good.

(MORE: Everton 3-0 Arsenal: Everton’s Champions League dreams in sight with big win)

So much for that. Everton’s 3-0 win over Arsenal wasn’t just plucky. It was convincing, leaving no doubt as to which team is the fourth-best I’m England. The top three: they’re title contenders. After that drop off, Everton is the best. They proved so on Sunday.

One point back of Arsenal with a game in hand, Everton’s focus now shifts to the run-in. Can they fulfill the Champions League promise they flashed on Sunday? Here are the remaining games for each team:

Arsenal
(33 games, 64 points)
Everton
(32 games, 63 points)
vs. West Ham
at Hull City
vs. Newcastle United
vs. West Bromwich Albion
vs. at Norwich
at Sunderland
vs. Crystal Palace
vs. Manchester United
at Southampton
vs. Manchester City
at Hull City

There are enough stumbling blocks along Everton’s road to give Arsenal fans hope, but those fans may also remember Mathieu Flamini’s own goal at home against Swansea, a reminder of the team’s extraordinary ability to turn its back on success. With the team also still active in the FA Cup, their last five games won’t be distraction free.

Perhaps a Gooner’s worst nightmare: Arsène Wenger uses his chance at silverware to condone his team’s waning league results.


source: AP

2. Not even Stan Kroenke would take this lying down

Let’s not talk “crisis” – the unimaginative cliché that correlates so well with “Ctrl+W”. Let’s talk about the real implications of today’s result, even if our limited knowledge of Arsenal’s inner-workings means the conversation’s no less speculative. But given the well-established suspicions about the Gunners, it’s at least worth considering how the next four or five months will test conventional wisdom.

That wisdom holds that Stan Kroenke, Arsenal’s majority shareholder, is less concerned with the team’s silverware drought than its place in Champions League. Call it a financial concern, one that explains why, despite Arsenal’s wane from perennial title contention, Wenger has remained beyond reproach.

A dip to fifth will test that hypothesis. If Arsenal loses that Champions League money and looks toward a 2014-15 season where Everton, Tottenham and Manchester United will challenge for that all-important fourth place spot, Kroenke and Ivan Gazidis may look at this season as a clear sign of unacceptable regression. Particularly as Roberto Martínez, an ideal fit for Arsenal’s job, sees his name linked with places like Barcelona, the pressure to make a move could be greater than ever.

Provided Arsenal don’t finish fourth, of course. But if they miss the top four for the first time in the Premier League era, the conversation might start. Hey, Arséne: That Paris Saint-Germain job, huh? Or Barcelona – what a fit, right? We just don’t want to ruin what we’ve got.

It will be difficult for Arsenal to improve on Wenger, but as results continue to diminish (and the outcomes of big games become more disturbingly lopsided) the risks gain a different, more tolerable context. Arsenal’s brain trust could be tempted to move on.


3. Top three hold serve

All three contenders at the top of the table held serve, something we shouldn’t taken for granted in light of Chelsea’s recent results. But in that same light, the Blues may have posted one of the weekend’s most impressive results. A 3-0 win at home to Stoke looks obligatory, but Mark Hughes’s team has seen steady improvement throughout the season. Given the Potters’ 3-2 win over Chelsea at the Britannia, a devil’s advocate could have expected more. Thanks to goals from Mohamed Salah, Frank Lampard, and Willian, the Blues slayed that demon early.

(MORE: Chelsea 3-0 Stoke City: Blues back on top)

Manchester City’s 4-1 over Southampton was also impressive, but given some of the idealistic naiveté we’ve seen from the Saints, the game at the Etihad always had a chance to break this way. But against a talented team capable of capitalizing on a poor performance, City deserves credit for maintaining their standard. With a fixture list impacted by the two games in hand they have to make up, the Citizens will be challenged to bring this energy to their remaining seven games.

(MORE: Manchester City 4-1 Southampton: Citizens go second despite early scare (video))

And then there’s Liverpool, who so many expected to struggle at West Ham today. It was a somewhat patronizing evaluation, as if playing a beautiful, progressive style is inconsistent with being able to handle Andy Carroll. Martin Skrtel and Mamadou Sahko may not be the league’s best defensive pairing, but they’re not weaklings. If there’s one thing they can to, it’s muscle up to a big, slow target man. Unsurprisingly, Liverpool won 2-1, albeit with two goals from the spot.

(MORE: West Ham 1-2 Liverpool: Contentious battle sees Liverpool through to top)


 

4. The hype begins now

Here’s where City’s early exit from Champions League becomes a blessing. Had they defeated Barcelona in the Round of 16, the Citizens would be playing mid-week ahead of Sunday’s big game at Anfield. Given the long odds of any non-Bayern Munich team winning Champions League, it would likely be a waste of resources. For credibility’s sake alone, Manuel Pellegrini would be compelled to play a strong team on Tuesday or Wednesday. While City’s squad has enviable depth, the game would still be a distraction. Champions League may carry more glory, but City’s chances to win the Premier League are far better.

None of which has anything to do with Sunday’s actual game. Ever since Liverpool claimed first place, City’s visit to Anfield has loomed large. With the Reds in the midst of a charge that’s seen them win nine-in-a-row, Manchester City’s games in hand appear to be the major obstacle between Brendan Rodgers and a breakthrough title. If, however, Liverpool could beat City at Anfield? Those games in hand could prove irrelevant.

Let the hype begin now. Chelsea and Manchester United’s mid-week exploits in Champions League will serve as a brief distraction, but all along, our attentions will slowly be drifting to Anfield. Premier League fans have been subtly hyping this came for weeks. They don’t have to be subtle, anymore.


5. No ground gained at the bottom

Fulham seemed to get a huge boost to its survival pursuit, taking a 2-1 result out of Villa Park. Then West Brom won, and all of the Cottagers’ strides were put in a different perspective. While Fulham did climb out of the cellar, passing both Sunderland and Cardiff City, they didn’t move closer to safety. They still need to gain six points on 17th place, even if 17th is now Norwich City, not West Brom.

(MORE: Aston Villa 1-2 Fulham: A vital three points could help Cottagers reach safety (video))

The news is worse for Cardiff, whose embarrassing loss at home felt like a ticket to the Championship. Against a Crystal Palace team that had scored only 20 goal this season, the Bluebirds conceded three times. Four games after earning what seemed a key win over the Cottagers, Ole Gunner Solksjær’s team is now below Fulham in the standings.

(MORE: Cardiff City 0-3 Crystal Palace: Puncheon at the double (video))

For last place Sunderland, there’s still hope, even if they’ve gone two months without a Premier League win. With seven points in their three games in hand, the Black Cats will be safe. How likely is it that a team that’s only earned 25 points in 30 games can take seven in three? Well, that’s why they call it hope.

(MORE: Norwich City 0-1 West Bromwich Albion: Amalfitano opener proves enough for West Brom this time (video))

(BREAKING: Chris Hughton sacked as Norwich City manager)


source: AP6. Jay Rodriguez falls

If Rickie Lambert was the attacking darling of last season’s Southampton squad, Jay Rodriguez snatched that title this year, no small feat considering the love Adam Lallana has rightfully received. But with 15 goals this season, the 24-year-old Rodriguez has carved out a spot among the Premier League’s goal scoring leaders, winning a place with the growing Saints contingent likely to represent England at this summer’s World Cup.

Now all that needs to be written in the past tense. Rodriguez was stretchered off from Saturday’s game with a knee injury everybody suspects to be a major one. Though at the time of this writing Southampton had yet to clarify the extend of the problem, players reacted with that knowing regret we only see with a severe injury. Let’s just hope they’re wrong.

(MORE: Jay Rodriguez’s World Cup dream in ruins after knee injury)

Though he’s an important part of Southampton’s team, given what the Saints are fighting for right now, they’re unlikely to truly miss Rodriguez in the near-term. And while England can use all the talented attackers it can get, it was still uncertain what role he would play for Roy Hodgson this summer.

The big loss here is to Rodriguez himself. Experiencing his first prolonged spell of top flight success, Rodriguez was taking advantage of his career’s emerging prime. Now he could be sidetracked for up to a year. While he will still be young enough to comeback, reclaim some of this momentum, and challenge for a place at another major tournament, it’s always sad to see a player lose some of the best time of his career. Especially when he’d just started tasting success.

Mauricio Pochettino: “I am in love with Harry Kane”

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LONDON — It is easy to understand why Mauricio Pochettino is waxing lyrical about Harry Kane.

[ MORE: 3 things we learned

On Saturday Kane scored twice in the first half to set Tottenham on their way to a 3-2 win at West Ham, as the English striker celebrated his inclusion into the FIFPro World 11 nominees (the only Englishman) earlier in the week.

Out of Europe’s top five leagues only Lionel Messi has scored more than Kane’s 25 goals in 2017.

Speaking to the media after the game Pochettino professed his love for Kane who has now scored six goals in his last four appearances for Tottenham in all competitions and eight in six if you include his two goals for England earlier in September.

“For me Harry Kane is one of the best strikers in the world. It is too hard to find the word to describe him. In the last three seasons I am telling you how he is. I am in love, like the fans are in love, like the teammates are in love, not only because he scores goals,” Pochettino explained. “He is professional, humble and he is very good example in football today that is a big business. He keeps all the values that managers like me appreciate a lot. That is why I say to you I am in love with him for many different reasons.”

Kane hit the post twice, created numerous chances for his teammates and led the line superbly against West Ham’s three central defenders.

Hammers boss Slaven Bilic believes Kane is among the top five to 10 strikers in the world and said his defenders couldn’t have done any more to stop Kane on Saturday.

Kane still scored twice and ultimately decided the outcome of the game.

“The best compliment I can give him, is that we played with three center backs. Fonte, Reid and Ogbonna had a really good game. My three center backs were against him and Dele Alli. They had a really good game and still he was using those situations and basically he decided the game and my center backs were good,” Bilic said, puffing out his cheeks.

After suffering a slow start to the season once again Kane is in fine form in September, ripping up Premier League defenses in his sleep as he linked up with Dele Alli and Christian Eriksen fluidly in the final third.

Still only 24 years of age, it is scary to think about what Kane can become.

Three things learned from Tottenham’s win at West Ham

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LONDON — Tottenham Hotspur beat West Ham United on Saturday in a thrilling London derby at the London Stadium.

[ MORE: Pochettino “in love” with Kane ]

Spurs thought they had sewed up a routine victory after they went 3-0 up after an hour but Serge Aurier’s red card set up a nervy finish as Javier Hernandez and Cheikhou Kouyate scored headers for the Hammers.

Here’s what we learned from the London Stadium.


COMPLETE KANE

In 2017 Harry Kane has scored 25 goals. In Europe’s top five leagues only Lionel Messi has scored more (34).

Earlier this week Kane was the only Englishman to be named among the 55 nominees for the FIFPro World 11 for 2016-17. It’s easy to see why.

His first goal was a diving header, instinctively glanced into the far corner. His second was about being in the right place at the right time to slot home. He hit the post twice in the second half and could have easily had a hat trick.

Aside from his finishing and his hot streak (six goals in his last four games for Spurs and eight in his last six if you include his goals for England earlier this month) his vision and ability to drop deep, bring others into play and link up the game set him apart.

Kane is not a true predator like Sergio Aguero. He is not a forward who always scores spectacular goals like Alexis Sanchez or one who usually does his damage just in the box like Romelu Lukaku. He has it all.

Harry Kane is the complete forward and at the age of 24 it is hard to spot a weakness in his game.


AURIER AN ISSUE

Serge Aurier arrived at Tottenham with plenty of baggage off the pitch but on it he’s proving a real Jekyll and Hyde character.

The Ivory Coast right back made one superb covering tackle in the first half to deny Marko Arnautovic in the box but then also wandered out of position on multiple occasions and didn’t exactly bust a gut to get back into position.

His two silly challenges in the space of six minutes in the second half summed up his play. A rash tackle on Mark Noble was followed up by a wild lunge on Andy Carroll and Aurier was off.

That sending off rattled Spurs who could’ve easily coughed up a three-goal lead and let two points go.

Mauricio Pochettino knew he had plenty on his plate when he signed Aurier from Paris Saint-Germain on transfer deadline day. This performance showed he is perhaps not worth the risk and either Kieran Trippier or Kyle Walker-Peters deserve a chance at right back.


HAMMERS HUMBLED

The 3-2 scoreline doesn’t tell the story of this game.

Sure, West Ham scored twice in the final 25 minutes and rallied to try and grab an improbably point, but that papered over the cracks.

Slaven Bilic‘s future is still not decided and that uncertainty is ripping the team apart.

Not knowing if Bilic will be in charge beyond the next few months, let alone the end of this season when his current deal runs out, it feels like West Ham are at a real crossroads.

With the owners so far unwilling to give Bilic a new deal, performances like the one his side dished up from minutes 20-65 on Saturday won’t help his cause. The Hammers started well but fell apart when Michail Antonio went off injured and was replaced by Andy Carroll.

Bilic was backed with a team full of experienced international as Marko Arnautovic, Hernandez, Pablo Zabaleta and Joe Hart arrived in the summer but there doesn’t seem to be a real long-term plan at West Ham. That showed in their performance on Saturday as they battled back from 3-0 down which put a brave face on yet another jumbled display.


Kane after another brace: “I just want to score against every team”

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Harry Kane has three braces in September following his goal-free August, and Spurs continue to climb the Premier League table following a 3-2 win against West Ham United on Saturday at the London Stadium.

Spurs built a 3-0 lead through two from Kane and another from Christian Eriksen, but West Ham pulled one back before a Serge Aurier red card set the stage for a wild ending.

[ RECAP: West Ham 2-3 Spurs ]

The North Londoners held on for the win, boosting its standing to third on 11 points before the rest of the big boys play their weekend fixtures.

Here’s Kane, via the BBC:

“When you are 3-0 up and end up going 3-1 or 3-2 it is always nerve-wracking, especially with 10 men. But it is a great result.

“I see stuff go round on social media (about his goalscoring) but I don’t think about it. I just want to score against every team. I am delighted to get a couple and help the team win.

“We know we have to improve our home form and we will be right up there. To get nine points from three away games is really good.”

Kane now has September braces against Everton, West Ham, and Borussia Dortmund — not bad — and visits APOEL Nicosia and Huddersfield Town this week. Might he add another to his record?

Watch Live: Six Premier League games at 10am ET

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Six Premier League games are coming your way at 10 a.m. ET on Saturday and you can watch them all live online.

[ STREAM: Every PL game live here ]

Man City host Crystal Palace in a top v. bottom clash, Chelsea head to Stoke, Manchester United travel to Southampton, Swansea host Watford, Everton host Bournemouth and Huddersfield head to Burnley.

[ MORE: Sign up for NBC Sports Gold ] 

You can access additional games by purchasing the new “Premier League Pass” via NBC Sports Gold which also includes an extensive selection of shoulder programming such as Premier League News, Premier League Today and NBC Sports originals such as Premier League Download and much more.

[ STREAM: “Goal Rush” here ]

For those of you familiar with the Premier League Breakaway Show during busy days (Boxing Day, New Year’s Day, Championship Sunday etc.) in the PL, this will follow that model of being similar to the NFL RedZone with action shown from all of the games in the 10 a.m. ET window. More info is available here.

The schedule for all six games at 10 a.m. ET is below and you can stream each game live by clicking on the links.


10 a.m. ET: Manchester City vs. Crystal Palace – NBCSN [STREAM]
10 a.m. ET: Stoke City vs. Chelsea – CNBC [STREAM]
10 a.m. ET: Everton vs. Bournemouth – NBC Sports Gold  [STREAM]
10 a.m. ET: Burnley vs. Huddersfield – NBC Sports Gold [STREAM]
10 a.m. ET: Southampton vs. Manchester United – NBC Sports Gold [STREAM]
10 a.m. ET: Swansea City vs. Watford – NBC Sports Gold [STREAM]