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Quick Six: Liverpool inches closer, Moyes’ reception, and the rest of the headlines from the BPL weekend

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1. CHELSEA LOSES CONTROL OF TITLE DESTINY

Before we could build the hype for Chelsea’s trip to Liverpool – a match that had the potential to decide this year’s title – an unlikely antagonist intervened. Dormant for most of the season, Sunderland decided to wake up, first taking an unlikely point from Manchester City before pulling the upset at Stamford Bridge.

This was more than your any given sunday-type scenario. José Mourinho had gone 77 Premier League matches without a loss at the Bridge. With City having lost at Anfield, the Blues’ title destiny was back under their control. The season was developing to fit the story England wanted – their favorite manager’s triumphant return.

Instead, after the Black Cats’ 2-1 win in London, two other narratives are taking over. With every result, the Liverpool story is taking hold. At some point, perhaps after Sunday in Anfield, we’ll start talking about this race as if it’s over, but if it were Manchester City, United, or Chelsea in first (a team that had won a recent title), we might already crowned a champion. That Liverpool hasn’t been here before makes us more cautious.

Sunderland’s is the other story taking hold. For most of the season, Gus Poyet’s side has had two matches in hand, games that have given fans reason for hope. But those wishes were overshadowed by form that had left the team winless since Feb. 1.

Now, after a week in which the Black Cats took four points from the league’s second and third place teams, survival is more than hypothetical. Still holding a match in hand, Sunderland’s one win from safety.

2. Mourinho changes up his interview game

What would a Quick Six be without mocking our fascination with José Mourinho quotes, though this week, the Special One decided to change things up. Rather than weaving an obviously false, self-serving view of the Premier League world, the manager’s frustration took over. After referee Mike Dean awarded Sunderland a late, controversial penalty, Mourinho elected to congratulate him (as well as everybody else he could think of) rather than risk a fine.

Seemingly innumerable times this season, this space has asked we bother listening to José Mourinho at all. We have our answer. For all the fantasy he projects in his typical post-match interviews, something clever is always one question away.

Perhaps full sarcasm isn’t the most original response, but in the wake of Saturday’s loss, it told us a lot about Mourinho’s mindset. In that way, it may have been his most useful interview of the season.

3. Suárez enters the 30 club; Sterling steals the show

Robin van Persie. Cristiano Ronaldo. Thierry Henry. Kevin Phillips. Alan Shearer. Andy Cole. They’re the six players who had reached 30 goals in a Premier League season. After of Sunday’s game at Carrow Road, there’s a seventh on the list. Luis Suárez, with three matches to play, has joined what’s proved to be an elite club.

Despite the milestone, Suárez found himself playing second fiddle during Liverpool’s 3-2 win at Norwich City. With two goals and assist, Raheem Sterling gave a Man of the Match-caliber performance, one that made up for any slack left in the absence of Daniel Sturridge. Up to nine goals on the season, the 19-year-old will likely be the team’s fourth double-digit scorer.

It’s a symptom of the progress the Reds have made this season – a testament to what Brendan Rodgers has done with his squad. In recent seasons, the Reds had one or two players you could envision in a table-of-the-table squad. Now they are a top of the table squad, one that’s capable of creating 30 goals for Luis Suárez, another 20 for Daniel Sturridge, and getting a quickly emerging Raheem Sterline to double digits on the season.

source: AP4. Norwich City approaching the Championship

The Canaries put up more of a fight than many expected, getting a Robert Snodgrass goal in the 77th minute to pull them within one. Without a result, however, the team remains within reach of every club in the drop. Even Sunderland, in last place, can pass Norwich next week thanks to its superior goal difference.

Unfortunately for Norwich, things don’t get much easier going forward. A trip to Old Trafford next weekend gives them some hope of a point, but even with the Red Devils’ struggles, the Canaries are underdogs. Closing out the season against Chelsea and Arsenal, Norwich will have to summon the spirit of Sunderland to stay out of the drop.

With Cardiff City and Fulham two points back, Sunderland three, Norwich has become the league’s best bet to go down, even if they don’t sit in the drop. Whereas a month ago nobody looked capable of climbing out of the bottom three, Norwich seems destined to assure one team’s survival.

5. Moyes’ unwelcome, unfair reception at Goodison

Everton may not have been pining for David Moyes to stay, but when the club’s long-time boss left for Manchester United last year, there wasn’t a huge push to kick him as he was walked out the door, either. By the time the Scottish manager returned to Goodison on Sunday, though, the mood had changed. Having seen what the squad is capable of under Roberto Martínez, the Everton faithful are no longer conceding the benefit of the doubt.

Symbolically, it was the low point of what’s destined to be Moyes’ only year at Manchester United. It’s one thing to fail in a new role, to see the person who took your place take your old job to new heights, and to suffer a defeat upon returning to your old haunts. It’s entirely different to return to visit your old office and be ridiculed. For as poor a fit as Moyes has been at United, Goodison’s reaction was too much.

It’s easy to pile on to Moyes right now. Manchester United fans are right to see him as a symbol of an unnecessarily exaggerated fall. But given his service to Everton, Sunday’s reaction went too far. If nothing else, Moyes deserved respect for the decade he gave to the club.

6. Aston Villa’s conditional takeover

The news came Thursday night, but over the last two days, the seeds of speculation have taken hold, so much so that Randy Lerner took to the club’s website to address the uncertain situation around his club. Aston Villa appears destined to be sold, but only if the club stays up, a situation that puts even more pressure on Paul Lambert to keep the Lions in the Premier League.

Lambert had already been the subject of increased criticism from Villa supporters, with the team’s uneven form and new relegation worries making it difficult to tell if the club was making progress. On Sunday, Lerner sought to assure fans that, for was difficult as recent seasons have been, Lambert was operating within parameters set by ownership. Blame Paul if you want, it implied, but know he’s acting under my commands.

That there may be a different person giving those commands next year has given supporters hope. Even the few Lerner supporters that remain would concede the owner’s plans since Martin O’Neill left had been either non-existent or more humble than many would expect. Recently a consistent contender for European spots, Villa is now obliged to relegation battles. For those keen to note this is the biggest club in Birmingham, the current state is unacceptable.

The new owners are supposed to be more ambitious. They want to invest. They want to compete, all of which makes the next three games even more important. If Lambert doesn’t keep them up, Lerner can’t sell the club.

Kaka hoping to stay in Orlando beyond 2017

ORLANDO, FL - MARCH 08:  Kaka #10 of Orlando City SC dribbles the ball during an MLS soccer match between the New York City FC and the Orlando City SC at the Orlando Citrus Bowl on March 8, 2015 in Orlando, Florida. (Photo by Alex Menendez/Getty Images)
Photo by Alex Menendez/Getty Images)
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Kaka is enjoying life in Florida.

The former Ballon d’Or winner is hoping to stay with Orlando City SC beyond the end of his contract, which runs its course after the 2017 season.

[ MORE: Real Madrid now winless in three ]

Kaka has been very good for the Lions, scoring 19 goals and 15 assists in 53 total matches. Reports had said he’s skip town after the third year of the deal, but Kaka refutes that idea.

From MLSSoccer.com:

“A misunderstanding because I am very happy here,” Kaká told reporters at MLS Media Day on Tuesday. “I had a three year contract, so this is the last year under this contract, but my idea is to stay here.

“Of course we never know what can happen at the end of the season or during the season, but my idea for now is to stay in Orlando and stay in the league.”

Kaka turns 35 in April, but has been consistently good even if injuries kept him to 24 MLS contests last season. If he puts forth a similar season, there’s little reason for Orlando — or another team — not to take a chance on Ricardo Izecson dos Santos Leite.

Gabriel Jesus cleared, could make Man City debut

SAO PAULO, BRAZIL - NOVEMBER 20:  Gabriel Jesus of Palmeiras runs with the ball during the match between Palmeiras and Botafogo for the Brazilian Series A 2016 at Allianz Parque on November 20, 2016 in Sao Paulo, Brazil.  (Photo by Friedemann Vogel/Getty Images)
Photo by Friedemann Vogel/Getty Images
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Gabriel Jesus could go straight into Manchester City’s starting lineup.

The 19-year-old Brazilian has finally been cleared to suit up for the English side after finishing a title-winning campaign with Palmeiras.

With four goals in six caps for the Brazil national team and an Olympic gold medal with their U-23 side, Jesus is among the hottest prospects in the world.

[ MORE: City fifth in “Money League” ]

City is struggling, and the fresh injection of attacking talent could be music to the ears of boss Pep Guardiola (who, fun fact, celebrates his 46th birthday today).

From the Manchester Evening News:

“He’s a great player. Going to Europe is a good thing for a player. He will grow quicker, he will start to understand football in another way and also be respected inside the football scene.

“I guess that for Gabriel Jesus it was a good thing to leave Brazilian soccer, he did everything he had could in [Brazil]. He’s going to a very difficult, competitive [type of football] but I think that he can be successful.”

Jesus had 21 goals in 46 matches this season with Palmeiras.

Casemiro: “Real Madrid aren’t ever allowed to lose”

MADRID, SPAIN - JANUARY 18:  Henrique Casemiro of Real Madrid heads the ball against Daniel Wass of Celta de Vigo during the Copa del Rey Quarter Final, First Leg match between Real Madrid CF and  Celta Vigo at Bernabeu on January 18, 2017 in Madrid, Spain.  (Photo by Denis Doyle/Getty Images)
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The pressure at Real Madrid can be overwhelming, and the players who thrive there generally have thick skin and short memories.

They also take losses pretty seriously.

That goes for the manager as well, as both Real Madrid boss Zinedine Zidane and Casemiro have reacted to Real’s third-straight non-win in serious fashion.

[ MORE: Real no longer No. 1 in money ]

Remember, this is coming after the first match of the “slump” — a 3-3 draw with Sevilla — was the final match of a world record 40-match unbeaten run.

Casemiro, whose record in the Real Madrid lineup is as good as anyone’s, said this (via Marca):

“Yes, it’s worrying to lose again,” he said just after the full-time whistle. “Real Madrid aren’t ever allowed to lose. The defeat against Sevilla has hurt us.”

And if you want to tell Casemiro to relax, that only one of those matches was in league play and the club still leads the table by a point with a match-in-hand on nearly everyone… well… enter Zidane.

“I’m the one responsible and I must find the solution,” he said in his post-match press conference. “I wasn’t surprised by the way Celta played, as we knew that they’re a team that can really hurt you. I’m not worried, although it’s a bad moment. We know that we can overcome it and we are going to overcome it.”

I’m far from a Real Madrid fan, and you can credit Florentino Perez’s ideas and the hanky-waving fans for a lot of that, but it’s impossible not admire how seriously Real takes the business of winning. And maybe, just maybe, the fan and board expectations occasionally help the squad.

Run-up shootouts, per-player match limits on FIFA’s agenda

Marco van Basten, Dutch football manager and former football player, poses for a photo on the green carpet while arriving prior to the The Best - FIFA Football Awards 2016 ceremony held at the Swiss TV studio in Zurich, Switzerland, Monday, Jan. 9, 2017.  (Walter Bieri/Keystone via AP)
Walter Bieri/Keystone via AP
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Restricting players to 60 games a year. Replacing penalty shootouts with eight-second run-ups. Introducing orange cards to send players off for 10 minutes. Scrapping offside.

Former AC Milan and Netherlands forward Marco van Basten is using his role as technical director at FIFA to propose a series of changes to soccer to stir a debate.

[ MORE: Costa back for Chelsea ]

Rather than using his job to meddle, Van Basten highlights the need to preserve soccer as the world’s most popular sport.

“I have spoken to a lot of coaches and players,” Van Basten said in an interview with The Associated Press. “We have to promote quality instead of quantity. We are playing too much football now. We have to defend players because they have to play so much and are not fresh or fit anymore.

“That’s bad for the quality of the game. Even in June when the big tournaments are played players cannot perform to their maximum because now if players are really successful they can play up to 75 official games in the year. I think that’s a bit too much and maybe they should stop at 55 or 60.”

Although FIFA will expand the World Cup from 32 to 48 teams from 2026, that won’t burden players with any additional games. Instead, clubs sides would have to explore reducing the number of fixtures, potentially by reducing the number of lucrative friendly games played on tours.

[ MORE: Real Madrid now winless in three ]

“That’s all for money but we have to think about football and not money,” said Van Basten, who was hired by FIFA in September. “For a lot of clubs that’s not easy. But there is enough money in football.

“(Cristiano) Ronaldo and (Lionel) Messi are earning so much money. If they are earning a little bit less but performing better that’s good for football.”

Asked about countries like England or France no longer playing two cup competitions alongside their league fixtures, Van Basten said: “In my opinion that should be an interesting discussion.”

Van Basten knows some of radical changes he proposed to the AP could make traditionalists uneasy. But the 1992 FIFA world player of the year wants to ensure the global game has a say on its future.

“We should not just let the game be organized by those with the money,” he said from FIFA HQ in Zurich. “The big clubs like Paris Saint-Germain, Manchester City and Real Madrid who have everything.”

“In football you need opponents, competition because if you are alone with two or three clubs controlling everything you don’t have any competition.”

Here are some potential changes to soccer proposed by Van Basten:

PENALTY SHOOTOUTS

Rather than burdening players with an additional 30 minutes of action when cup games are level after 90 minutes, Van Basten is suggesting going straight to penalties.

“I think everybody is pretty tired after 120 minutes,” Van Basten said.

Now penalties are a test of nerves with players having one chance to beat the goalkeeper from the penalty spot.

“Maybe the player should start 25 meters from goal and then you can dribble the goalkeeper or shoot early,” he said. “But you have to make a goal within eight seconds. It’s more skill and less luck. It’s maybe a bit more spectacular. It’s more football but it’s still nervous for the player.”

NO OFFSIDE

Scrapping the offside rule could make soccer more visually appealing, Van Basten advises.

“I think it can be very interesting watching a game without offside,” he said. “Football now is already looking a lot like handball with nine or ten defenders in front of the goal. It’s difficult for the opposition to score a goal as it’s very difficult to create something in the small pieces of space they give you.

“So if you play without offside you get more possibilities to score a goal.”

FOUR QUARTERS

Soccer is increasingly intense and grueling, with a single 15-minute break between 45-minute halves.

“We are trying to help the game, to let the game develop in a good way,” Van Basten said. “We want to have a game which is honest, which is dynamic, a nice spectacle so we should try to do everything to help that process.”

Introducing four quarters could be advantageous.

“The coach can have three times with his players during the game,” Van Basten said.

SINBINS

Now there is no middle ground between players being shown a yellow card and receiving a red card and then being removed for the rest of the game.

“Maybe an orange card could be shown that sees a player go out of the game for 10 minutes for incidents that are not heavy enough for a red card,” Van Basten said.

Such an instance could be when a player commits repeat fouls that didn’t warrant yellow cards or obstruct opponents. Five misdemeanors could earn a player a place in a sin bin for 10 minutes, Van Basten said.

NEXT STEPS

Any changes to the laws of the game cannot be forced through by Van Basten, however close he is to FIFA President Gianni Infantino. He said he wants to listen to the views of world before any proposals are taken to the game’s law-making body, The International Football Association Board. FIFA controls half of the eight votes on IFAB, with the other four retained by the British associations.

Rob Harris is at http://www.twitter.com/RobHarris and http://www.facebook.com/RobHarrisReports