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.

How can PSG sign Neymar from Barcelona?

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The biggest transfer deal in soccer history is probably also going to be the most complex.

With UEFA’s Financial Fair Play rules halting Paris Saint-Germain, Manchester City and many others from spending even more cash over the past few seasons, talk of Neymar’s potential $255 million transfer from Barcelona to PSG boggles the mind.

How can PSG pull this off and not break UEFA’s FFP rules? Well, here’s a deeper look at the numbers and how it could work.

If Neymar’s transfer did go through and his wages are as astronomical as reported — all-in the transfer fee, wages and other fees would top $586 million, with wages of over $50 million per year — then PSG have to bring in some huge finances from sponsors, ticket sales and move on some other players, right?

Not quite.

Under the interpretations of FFP rules, the sums are added up each season and the players’ value is amortized over the length of their contract. So, if the contract for Neymar was split up over five years PSG would put that down as $50 million per season, plus whatever they owed on the transfer fee if they were paying it off in installments.

A little more manageable, if still absurd.

When it comes to Neymar’s release clause set to be triggered, that usually means all of the cash is needed straight up. Tricky. What is more likely is PSG will pay $100 million and then stagger the rest of the fee over a five-year period, if Barca agree to it.

There are always many, many complexities to these type of deals, and especially with Neymar’s former club Santos potentially having a sell-on clause and many other factors such as loyalty fees, bonuses, agent fees and more.

PSG chairman Nasser al Khelaifi will have plenty of work to do to get this deal done and there are also reports in Spain that the Qatari government could enter into a separate agreement to pay Neymar his wages.

That said, under the FFP rules, one thing to remember is key: clubs have to bring in what they are spending but they can still make losses of up to $34.9 million per season under the current rules.

With PSG owned by a company which is essentially the State of Qatar, UEFA will automatically investigate a team where 30 percent or more of their revenue is supplied by a company linked to the owner. PSG have already been sanctioned heavily in the past with huge fines, restrictions on how many players can play in a UCL season and having their spending capped in 2014-15.

It is likely PSG’s Qatari owners, Oryx Qatar Sports Investments, will have alternative revenue from sponsors and commercial deals already lined up to help deal with the issues Neymar’s arrival could have in terms of FFP.

These sums are huge and the complexity of this deal is obvious, but if Neymar did join PSG then his marketability would surely see them recoup plenty of cash in other ways.

Therein lies the golden rule to all of this: you have to speculate to accumulate.

Somehow PSG believe this transfer fee and Neymar’s wages would be money well spent. Whether or not that is the case we will have to wait and see, but the answer is that this deal could happen, even under the rigid restrictions of FFP.

PSG would have to work hard to balance the books and bring in extra revenue, but their owners are better placed than most to make that happen.

Chelsea’s Pedro suffers “multiple fractures” to face after collision

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Chelsea are confident that Pedro will not be out for an extended period of time even though the Spanish winger suffered “multiple fractures” to his face.

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Pedro, 29, collided with Arsenal’s David Ospina in Chelsea’s 3-0 win against the Gunners in Beijing on Saturday and it turns out his injury is worse than first feared.

Speaking ahead of Chelsea’s International Champions Cup game in Singapore against Bayern Munich on Tuesday, Antonio Conte revealed that Pedro has returned to London.

“The situation was more serious than I thought because I hoped it would only be concussion and instead he had multiple fractures,” Conte said. “With a mask, and in around 10 days, he can come back to work with us.”

Plenty of Chelsea players have been forced to wear a protective mask in recent years with Cesar Azpilicueta, Gary Cahill, John Terry and Pedro all donning the Zoro look after suffering facial injuries.

The Spaniard could be ready for the FA Community Shield against Arsenal at Wembly on Aug. 6 but with Eden Hazard already out injured for the opening weeks of the season after requiring ankle surgery this summer, Conte won’t want to risk Pedro unless he needs to.

With Alvaro Morata set for his first minutes in a Chelsea shirt against Bayern, plus Michy Batshuayi and Willian in good form against Arsenal with fine goals, Conte should have enough to keep things ticking over for the time being and the opening weeks of the season.

Liverpool target Naby Keita involved in horror tackle

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This could be quite disturbing.

RB Leipzig’s training session was cut short on Monday after Liverpool target Naby Keita, who Leipzig insist is not for sale, reportedly clattered into Diego Demme with a “horror tackle.”

The challenge was so bad it ended the session and photos have shown Demme leaving the pitch with the help of others and his knee bandaged up.

Keita, 22, is said to want out of Leizpig and the Guinea international wants to join Liverpool who have reportedly had a $85.9 million bid turned down from the box-to-box midfielder. Keita has a release clause of $62.5 million in his contract, but that doesn’t kick in until next summer.

Until we know all the facts about what happened, this could have just been a routine training ground tackle which Keita mistimed.

That said, given all of the current speculation around his future and the player also said to be extremely frustrated with Leipzig’s stance, cynics out there are suggesting this could be one way of Keita forcing through a move to Liverpool.


 

 

Man City sign Benjamin Mendy from Monaco for $68 million

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Manchester City continues to splash cash like it’s going out of fashion.

[ VIDEO: Man United beat Real Madrid

Left back Benjamin Mendy, 23, has arrived from AS Monaco for $68 million and he has linked up with his new team in Los Angeles as they continue their preseason tour of the U.S. with a game against Real Madrid.

Pep Guardiola has now brought in five new players this summer with goalkeeper Ederson, right backs Kyle Walker and Danilo, playmaker Bernardo Silva and now Mendy costing over $267 million combined.

Here’s what the French international defender had to say after agreeing a five-year deal at City.

“I am absolutely delighted to be joining Manchester City,” Mendy said. “They are one of Europe’s leading clubs and in Pep Guardiola they have a manager committed to playing attacking football. I am sure that over the next few years we will be successful.”

City’s Director of Football, Txiki Begiristain, said Mendy was “undoubtedly one of the world’s best full-backs” and their “number one target in this position.”

Mendy has burst onto the scene at Monaco over the past 12 months, helping them to win the French title last season and also reach the semifinals of the UEFA Champions League.

The powerful left back makes surging runs forward and is as adept in attack as he is in defense. That’s obviously important in a Guardiola side as he expects his full backs to come inside, possess the ball and offer an attacking threat. Mendy ticks all the boxes.

City were knocked out of the UCL at the Round of 16 stage by Monaco with Mendy and fellow new signing Silva obviously impressing Guardiola, while Tiemoue Bakayoko has joined Chelsea for $55 million as a fine Monaco team has been broken up once again.

Monaco’s loss is the Premier League’s gain.

With Walker and Danilo at right back, plus Mendy at left back and Ederson in goal, City have strengthened their defense considerably this offseason. Ederson’s debut against Manchester United left plenty to be desired last week, but there’s no doubting City’s full back areas have been upgraded considerably.